What happened to Apple’s once-great ads?

“It may be time for Apple to ‘think different’ about its advertising,” Julia Love reports for The Mercury News. “The company that won hearts and minds with an Orwellian “1984” spot introducing the Macintosh computer and the enduring “Get a Mac” campaign has failed to impress with recent ads, according to advertising professionals who discussed the company’s approach. Though Apple’s gadgets have gotten sleeker and faster in recent years, the ads have lost their bite, they said.”

“Searching for its next hit, Apple has taken advertising into its own hands. Though it still works with its longtime agency, the tech giant has made a string of hires to expand its in-house creative team, betting that it cannot only churn out elegant and popular gadgets like the iPhone 6 but also craft ingenious ads for them,” Love reports. “But ad industry professionals say they are still waiting for the valley’s most celebrated advertiser to return to form… ‘The work hasn’t been great for a while, in my opinion,’ said Russel Wohlwerth, a principal at External View Consulting Group. ‘The big question is will it ever come back. It is a critical time for Apple.'”

“‘I now have Apple board members asking, ‘What is going on with advertising and what are you doing to fix it?” Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, wrote to Media Arts Lab in 2013, according to emails revealed in Apple’s patent trial with Samsung earlier this year,” Love reports. “Apple considered firing Media Arts Lab, the emails show. The company ultimately stuck with the agency but beefed up its in-house ad team with some high-profile hires, a push first reported by Bloomberg News. Apple has also made it clear it is willing to spend heavily on the effort. ‘That giant sucking sound you hear is freelancers being pulled out of San Francisco and being dragged in to Silicon Valley,’ said Paul Venables, founder of San Francisco ad agency Venables Bell & Partners. ‘They are just getting booked for endless terms with gobs of cash being thrown at them.’ Representatives for TBWA and Apple declined to comment.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: What happened? Steve Jobs died. Some talents are extremely difficult to replace.

As we wrote in March 2013:

Steve Jobs held a three-hour meeting every Wednesday afternoon with his top agency, marketing and communications people to approve each new commercial, print ad, web ad, and billboard. Does Tim Cook? If he does, does he have anything close to Jobs’ sensibilities in this area? Judging from Apple’s marketing since Steve left the building, he does not. Therefore, Cook needs to find a marketing guru to take Steve’s place, conduct these Wednesday meetings, and hold his marketing peoples’ feet to the fire until he/she is extremely satisfied.

And as we followed up with in April of this year:

As Apple CEO, Steve Jobs focused on two things – product design and marketing. He was a genius at both. His talents cannot be replaced with one person. In fact, his talents in either discipline cannot be replaced by one person. Jony Ive and Phil Schiller without Jobs cannot be expected to perform as if Jobs was still working with them. [Hence Apple’s subsequent Marc Newson hire to be Jony Ive’s muse/sounding board. – MDN Editor, Nov. 7, 2014]

A team of people – talented people who actually get it and who are all on the same page – is an absolute necessity for Apple’s success, but it creates a problem: Jobs was a single filter. A unified mind. The founder. A group of people simply cannot replicate that. This is not to say that they cannot do great work (we believe Apple does, and will continue, to do great work) just that Apple is fundamentally affected by the loss of Steve Jobs and has to figure out a new way to work.

Related articles:
Apple building 1,000-person internal advertising agency – June 10, 2014
Apple shifts TV ads production in-house as rift widens with TBWA\Chiat\Day – June 5, 2014
Apple debuts ‘Chicken Fat’ television ad (with video) – June 5, 2014
Emails show Phil Schiller shocked over Apple’s ad agency suggestions – April 8, 2014
Apple’s advertising dilemma aired at $2 billion trial – April 4, 2014
Samsung again mocks Apple customers in iPhone 5 queue via new Galaxy S III ad (with video) – September 19, 2012
Apple pulls ‘Genius’ ad series from its website, YouTube channel – August 22, 2012
Samsung runs print ad attacking Apple’s iPhone 5 in major U.S. newspapers – September 16, 2012
Samsung Super Bowl ad mocks Apple iPhone users – February 6, 2012
Could the Apple-TBWA love affair, one of advertising’s most-storied matchups, survive without Jobs? – January 24, 2011

37 Comments

    1. MDN analysis is one of the best critiques of SteveLESS Apple to date. Spot on!

      The ads suck. The non-visual OSes suck. Disappearing software like iWeb, iMovie, iDvd et al sucks. The teams are not as tight. The software releases are embarrassingly BUGGY.

      Tight ship does not apply to current SteveLESS Apple.

      But, the hardware continues to amaze. 🙂

  1. The ‘We sign our work’ (2013) short was brilliant and touching.

    The recent WWDC opening clip (2014) was dogshit.

    In both cases SJ was not with us.

    It turns out this stuff is just plain hard.

  2. This reminds me… A couple of weeks ago while watching TV, an ad came on showing a couple of MacBooks. The music was terrible. The scene flashed around seemingly at random. I said to my wife, “Uh oh, Apple really blew this one. It’s hideous!” And then I saw why: It was a Microsoft ad for the Surface, showing us all how much it is better than a MacBook. I’m sure it convinced a lot of people who own MacBooks that they made the right choice.

  3. Tim Cook seems to be kind of preoccupied with promoting his lifestyle. Maybe when he is done converting the world he will pay some attention to getting good advertisements for the great products Apple makes.

  4. When you are the new kid and the low volume product in your market, you need all the PR/Ads you can get to get traction.

    Once you are a market leader and people clammer for your new products; not so much ads needed.

  5. “This is a critical time for Apple.”

    Yeah, because they are hurting. When the products are incredible, maybe the snake-oil salesmen aren’t quite as important.

    “1984” was not immediately loved; art tends to be appreciated posthumously. Personally, I have thought several ads have been very good lately: “Misunderstood”, “Stickers”, and the entire “Designed in California”. I don’t particular care for the O’Fallon/Timberlake ads; they aren’t horrible like the “Genius” series, but they aren’t great.

    On the other hand, it is difficult to crank out greatness on a regular basis. I don’t believe I have seen that since Doyle Dane Bernbach with the old VW ads.

    1. Agreed. I personally loved “Misunderstood” and “Stickers”. I don’t guess I know “Designed…”, but then I don’t watch commercials. (And yet I did see the prior two – Apple’s ads are sometimes worth the watch!)

    2. “1984” was 30 years ago and its actual impact on sales is debatable. Get over it.

      Apple struck gold with its PC v. Mac series. It also struck out with other ads, like the iMac sticking out its “tongue” ad.

      Different ads play to different target markets and have different purposes. Just because Apple hasn’t struck on a huge new campaign like the Geico Gecko doesn’t mean the ads aren’t effective.

      Wendy’s had a huge hit with “Where’s the Beef?”, only most people didn’t recall that it was a Wendy’s ad.

  6. Compared to other tech companies, Apple’s advertising still sets the standard as indicated by all the imitation from competitors. That’s little to brag about, though, as Apple is and wants to be viewed as more than just a tech company. It’s a lifestyle company, and their advertising should match.

    At this point, I feel their marketing is doing an adequate job of sustaining the brand image; no more, no less. I’m ok with that. I suspect Apple’s internal teams are primarily focused on a major marketing push when the watch is released and then later with whatever TV-hub solution they end up with (there’s no point in heavily marketing the current Apple TV solution as it seems to still be in a glorified beta stage).

    I’m interested to see what their marketing department delivers in 2015. I’m not particularly excited with what they’ve delivered thus far, but Apple hasn’t really needed amazing marketing this year anyway.

  7. Oh and btw, it certainly appears that Marc Newson was hired to work on stuff Apple hasn’t traditionally been involved with (like watches). He’s not working for Apple full time and is staying in London. So I’m not sure it’s accurate to say he was hired to be Jony’s muse. More likely after doing the product red auction Jony and Marc realized they enjoyed working together and Jony knew Apple was moving into areas where Marc’s expertise would be valuable.

  8. Apple lost two major contributions when Steve Jobs died. First, excellent taste in advertising. Second, a great beta tester. Both areas have really suffered since Jobs death.

    Steve Jobs first and foremost was a user of the product. That is why the products were so refined and useful. Tim Cook does 80% of his work on an iPad. In other words, Tim Cook uses technology for reading, writing short notes and for presentations. Nothing wrong with that. However, Apple was successful because their products were refined and productive. In short they just worked. If they didn’t Apple was generally quick in fixing the issues.

    When Steve Jobs was sick I began noticing a drop in the quality of their products, iMovie for example. Apple has never quite recovered the software design polish that existed under Steve Jobs. If Apple is to continue to flourish, they need to work hard in this area.

    Apple really needs to hire a team to do nothing but test products, not only for bugs but for design and productivity. Have the photography hobbyists inside Apple testing the next photos app. Those who write and publish should be using Pages etc.

    Rewards and acknowledgement should be given to those who find not only bugs but submit design and feature improvements. Rewards should be increased if the products are well received from users. Internal recognition should also be noted for products panned by customers.

    In short, the testers and designers should be a team and as a team should be rewarded or demoted based on customer satisfaction with the products they design and test.

    Developers will be highly motivated if their income and careers are dependent on customer satisfaction.

  9. “To me marketing is about values. It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t.
    I’ll give you my own opinion on this because marketing is a subjective thing, it’s not a science, there’s a lot of art to it. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us, no company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us. We don’t stand a chance of advertising with features, and benefits, and with RAMs, and with charts, and comparisons. The only chance we have of communicating is with a feeling.”

  10. I think TV commentators who hide their iPads with Surfaces and everyone who refers to any tablet as an iPad advertise as well or better than commercials, and for a lot less bucks. The same for athletes who wear Beats when the camera’s on them … contracts be damned.

    1. Apple should do a faux Microsoft Surface commercial in which sports stars and well known news makers keep calling them iPads or Microsofts iPad thing, and not hiding their iPads behind the Surfaces very well.

      Tagline: “iPad, the tablet for the best of us.”

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