Why Apple’s current TV Ads are a driving me crazy

Like many people, I really like the emotional TV ads Apple is running showing average people getting fit and healthy, caring for their kids and so on.  But it struck me that ‘average people’ is not what Apple is about.  For years Steve Jobs positioned Apple as the brand for those who, quite literally, think different.  He famously narrated the crazy ones Ad which said:

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Now, look again at the current TV ads and you will see a lot of average people.  What Steve knew was that we don’t aspire to be average.  If Apple = average then it’s not a good outcome.    He knew we aspire to stand out and perhaps even be exceptional.  Now in a world where almost everyone has a smartphone and a big percentage have an iPhone, that does create a challenge.  But I’d argue that Apple needs to get back to ‘Think Different’ instead of making Apple a warm and emotional brand that lacks edge.  This is the brand Samsung has built and isn’t… well, different.

Apple will sell a boat load of iPhone 6s when they appear this fall. But I suspect they’ll sell a lot more if people view Apple as an aspirational brand rather than a household brand.  But maybe I’m the one who’s crazy!

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Online PR isn’t just about conversations

In the last few years, PR people have rightly stopped talking about stories and started talking about conversations.  The idea being that brands can start or join conversations that their customers are interested in, or are already having.  They can do this by contributing news, perspective, insight and raw content.  This shift is both important to the way PR is carried out and to the role it plays in the marketing process.  It opens new doors and new budgets for an industry that has long believed it deserves a bigger slice of the marketing pie.  But I’d like to remind PR people about something advertisers have known for a long time.  Getting our attention doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in a conversation with us.  My daughter’s laptop can often get her attention without any information being exchanged.  She simply enjoys watching entertaining content, or playing some mindless game.  She is no different from any of us in this respect.  We all have parts to our day when we simply want someone to take over our brains and let us escape.  Advertisers have figured this out to the extent that during some computer games, such as a car racing game, you will see billboards advertising products.  They recognize that the brands that ‘sponsor’ escapism are as important as the brands that sponsor educating us about the important issues of the day or the decisions we have to make.

Now the idea of creating content that helps people escape isn’t something you hear a lot in PR meetings.  PR meetings tend to be all about getting the message across in an increasingly noisy market.  But what if you created content such as a game or a video that was just so darned entertaining that people WANTED to watch it AND they knew your brand had sponsored this little mental vacation?  Wouldn’t that be just as powerful as that major news item you were hoping to get someone to blog about?  I’m not for a minute suggesting that we all ditch conversation management and move to entertainment.  I’m simply suggesting that digital channels open the doors for PR to much more than just conversations. Try this on for size in your next PR brainstorm.  Oh and happy 2011.


Don’t just have serious converastions

I just read a short book that interviewed advertising guru Charles Saatchi, of Saatchi & Saatchi fame.  In it he refers to a period in advertising when people actually looked forward to commercial breaks because the advertising was that entertaining.  People it seems looked forward to the latest ad from brands in the way they now get excited about the next movie staring their favorite celebrity.  I remember that era and he’s right.  I recall wanting to see the latest Levi ad before the start of a movie.  The closest we get to this now is a Budweiser ad during the Superbowl.  That’s sad.  Very sad.

My point here is that marketing should entertain as well as inform.  It should get us on the edge of our seats waiting to be sold to.  In a way Apple has adopted this approach by on the one hand helping fuel rumors about its latest products (see all the rumors around the tablet for example) and on the other making sure it says nothing publicly.  In short we are all dying to find out what Apple will do next.  This is a launch though, so building hype is to be expected.  But what can brands do to build expectation into their marketing AFTER a product is launched?  I’d argue that marketing has lost the art of entertaining and is too wrapped up in having a dialog that is focused on the ‘key points.’  Talking about the key points after the news is out gets, well, boring.  Also, as a consumer I don’t want to spend all my time in a serious conversation with a brand.  I want that brand to entertain me, surprise and even shock me.  Not in  the Tiger Woods way perhaps but you get my drift.

2009 was a year when everyone feared for their jobs and people ran a mile from risk.  In the race to avoid risk, they also avoided anything that was just plain fun.  Please let’s not repeat that in 2010.  Let’s create marketing programs that have a serious conversation but which also engage with customers in other, less serious ways.  Ways that may be harder to rationalize but which we all know just plain work.  Let’s have a Happy New Year.


Why do we want to be entertained?

My wife is convinced I have ADD.  She may have a point in that I struggle to stay focused on anything for longer than 20 minutes and in truth I struggle to read most newspaper articles in their entirety without my mind wandering off.  Part of my problem is that I struggle with content that doesn’t grab my attention and then make a serious attempt to hang on to it.  Like my own blog for instance.  I need content that gets me thinking, makes me laugh, cry etc.  A good book, movie or TV show can do this for millions but what is it about this content that keeps us engaged while other content causes us to head for the coffee maker?  The answer to this question has enormous importance for people in marketing and yet when I’ve subtly, and not so subtly, asked this question to marketers they, like me, have no real answer.  Like me they tend to… well, make something up.

If like me, you decide to look up on the web what keeps people’s attention you will find some pretty weird blog posts that tell you to use the word ‘and’ a lot and to put confetti in your envelopes (I pray that doesn’t happen to me).  Indeed it seems that to holding people’s attention either nobody has written the definitive work, OR the person that has figured it out is Warren Buffett or Bill Gates.

And yet, just as we all like to get attention we all love to give our undivided attention to great content.  Just think about the number of times when talking to friends to talk about books, TV shows, movies and concerts you’ve seen, read etc.  It seems we like both the process of being engaged AND the process of reliving that engagement.  When I started work the founders of my company spent hours each week recounting lines from various Monty Python films or shows.  They derived huge satisfaction from this, much more in fact than they did from the actual work as far as I can tell.  That level of engagement is a marketers dream.  Yet I doubt for a second that anyone who had responsibility for the Python franchise knew why people loved their content.  They just knew they did and they made every effort to take advantage of that.

Of course it may be that trying to capture engagement in a bottle and analyze it is a fruitless exercise.  It may be that the ingredients of fun are a secret we shouldn’t learn.  That said, authors, movie makers and comedians do have formulas they use to create successful products.  We all know that these formulas fail from time to time though.  Witness the Bruno movie that repeated the Borat formula.  In other words even the best of us know only parts of the formula.  As a result the secret ingredient that makes an idea work either shows up and turns it in to good work, or takes a vacation and leaves us bored and rather annoyed.

What is clear is that humans love to be entertained and engaged.  We love a book (Kindle) that we can’t put down.  We love a movie that makes us laugh for days afterwards.  I for one have no idea why we crave this in the same way we crave food that is bad for us but we do.  We seek out great content as if it were that food.  Unlike fattening food, however, this content stimulates our brain and gets us thinking.  Sometimes it gets us to think about profound issues, and sometimes it gets us to think about topics so irrelevant we get to escape our daily lives for a few minutes.

In short, therefore, it seems clear to me that the marketer who could figure out some magic formula for grabbing and keeping our attention will make billions.  Until then we will all keep guessing at that formula time and time again.  Sometimes we will succeed and other times we will fail.  But at least we’ll have fun trying!


People like good adverts and bad PR

If you search online for ‘great’ or ‘best advertising’ you’ll find sites such as bestadsever.com and bestadsontv.com. If you search for great or best PR, you’ll find very little. Indeed there isn’t a site (yet) that collects all the great work done in this area of marketing. There are however a host of sites that collect all the bad work done. One being prdisasters.com. It just goes to show that people love to see talking babies, horses with flatulence and dancing lizards just as much as they like to see CEOs stumbling to handle the media when things go wrong. Maybe PR Week should start a Best PR site and each month upload their winners.