Apple Needs a Fresh Marketing Vision, and We Have Some Ideas

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Experts point to a number of factors taking their toll on Apple, including:

• Jobs’ death in October 2011 and subsequent questions about CEO Tim Cook’s leadership. Brian Colello, a senior equity analyst at Morningstar, says of replacing Jobs: “Obviously, it’s a difficult task. Cook is an operations master, but not necessarily a visionary.”

• The controversy surrounding working conditions at Chinese facilities of Foxconn, a major supplier of components to Apple and other tech companies.

• Apple’s slumping share price, recently hovering in the low $400s after hitting an all-time high of $705 last September.

• A lack of innovative new products, even as Samsung’s Galaxy S4, Google Glass and Android-driven devices gain traction.

• Downbeat forecasts from analysts that generally match Apple’s guidance of third-quarter revenue between $33.5 billion and $35.5 billion, which would be flat compared to the year-ago period and represent a slip in growth from Q2. (The company is set to release Q3 earnings tomorrow, July 23.)


At a perilous time in its evolution, some well-received advertising could help Apple regain much-needed momentum and put it into position to capitalize on product intros set for this fall. Alas, “Designed by Apple” has been judged inconsistent at best, while some assessments have been downright hostile. (Reps for Apple and TBWAMedia Arts Lab declined requests to be interviewed for this story.)

A 60-second spot dubbed “Our Signature” employs an ambient soundtrack and sentimental images of adults and kids using Apple products on the train, in school, at a concert and elsewhere. “This is it,” a voiceover begins. “This is what matters: the experience of a product. How it makes someone feel. Will it make life better? Does it deserve to exist?”

Another, “Intention,” keeps the music cues and overall tone but ditches the narration, letting flowing, monochrome animations of points, lines and ultimately words tell the story: “How can anyone perfect anything? We start to confuse convenience with joy, abundance with choice. Designing something requires focus. The first thing we ask is, ‘What do we want people to feel?’ Delight … surprise … love … connection. Then we begin to craft around our intention.”

Criticism of the campaign has been loud and steady. West Coast ad veteran Bob Hoffman, author of the blog The Ad Contrarian, summed up the prevailing sentiment thus: “It is worse than just inconsistent and unfocused—it is ineffective.”

The ads “are more about the corporation than the consumer,” adds Forrester’s Stokes. “They’re about why Apple matters instead of why the consumer should care.”

Tim Nudd, Adweek’s creative editor and editor of the blog AdFreak, wondered in a review: “Has the company simply lost its voice?” Nudd declared the copy awkward and the message convoluted. “They aim for poetry in the classic Apple style,” he writes. “But maybe it really isn’t the same company after all.”

Other recent executions have fared better, notably the evocative, 10-minute film Making a Difference One App at a Time, which takes a muted, documentary-style approach to illustrate how Apple products improve lives around the world. While the video has largely been praised, it’s a one-off, not a broad pitch like “Designed by Apple,” which presumably was created with the intention of sustaining and building the brand for the long haul.


Judging an ad “good” or “bad” is, of course, highly subjective, and it is always a challenge to quantify creative and qualify brand image. Still, data from a pair of research firms confirm Apple is headed in the wrong direction.

“Our Signature” earned the lowest score among 26 Apple spots that broke over the last year, per Ace Metrix, which analyzes the effectiveness of commercials based on consumer surveys. The ad scored 489, far below the industry average of 542.

In fact, consumer perception of Apple’s TV spots has slipped for the past two years. The average Ace score for iPhone ads is currently 554, down from a 2011 average of 614. Apple’s average score for ads for hardware like the iPad and MacBook is 522, a 45-point slip from a 2011 average of 567.

By way of comparison, Samsung, one of Apple’s fiercest competitors, has aired 10 ads since May, four of which have scored over 600. (To be fair, Samsung airs many more ads than Apple, and some of its spots have scored below 500.) Samsung also outpaced Apple in YouGov’s midyear survey tracking brand buzz.

“Samsung is the strongest international performer for the second year running,” declares YouGov, and is a top 10 brand among consumers in 11 of the 14 countries monitored. Samsung ranked first among domestic telecom and technology providers, with a YouGov BrandIndex score of 21.7, topping second-place Apple at 17.3. Samsung’s Galaxy was rated No. 6 among products gaining buzz in the U.S., while no Apple product made that closely watched list. (YouGov defines buzz as a net score based on whether consumers hear something positive versus something negative about a brand through ads, media coverage or word of mouth.)

“The last two years of activity in smartphones has proven the danger of resting on one’s laurels,” says Matt Jarvis, a partner at Samsung Mobile’s lead creative agency 72andSunny. “The pace of culture and society is very punishing to brands that can’t consistently deliver innovation. Regardless of past experience, people move on when you don’t deliver the goods.”

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