Blog Post

Apple’s new ads not the work of geniuses, but still hit the mark

Apple’s(s AAPL) latest ad campaign, which showcases an in-store “genius” providing Mac support in real-world situations — to a fellow passenger on an airplane and to a neighbor at his apartment complex — is drawing criticism from tech types who don’t think they’re up to the standards of past Apple ad campaigns. The argument is that Apple is not really thinking differently enough about ads. I’d argue that yes, they may be a bit conventional, but they’re successful in showcasing what are two of Apple’s biggest competitive advantages vis-a-vis its competitors: its customer service and the simplicity of its products.

These new ads, which aired on TV starting Friday and you can find on YouTube, are somewhat of a departure for Apple in that the company is using normal people in the campaign, and that the situations for the ads aren’t very imaginative. However, the underlying message isn’t all that different from the famous and well-regarded “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads of last decade. Those ads, which made the actors who starred in them famous, anthropomorphized computers as two men who argued over their features. What they were actually doing was demonstrating their differences.

These new ads seem to be going after the same demographic: people who are not current Apple customers, particularly those who are not Mac owners. They attempt to differentiate Apple by demonstrating how accessible, passionate and helpful a Mac genius can be. But there’s another message too: it shows what you can do with a Mac (make baby announcement cards, coffee table photo books, business presentations). The fact that the genius helped an airline passenger make a quick video for his wife in just a few minutes before the airplane took off sends a message of iMovie’s simplicity.

In this sense, they’re following in the same footsteps as the company’s recent celebrities-using-Siri campaign — which also starred real (OK, “real”) people using an Apple product showcasing what it can do. Those ads, particularly the first one starring actress Zooey Deschanel, were also mocked for being too conventional and because Apple hasn’t relied on celebrity endorsement ads. But they show a product (Siri) in action in a way that’s very difficult to get across with a simple explanation. You have to see something like voice control embedded in a phone’s software in action to understand its value.

That’s why I don’t think the genius campaign is as awful as some are making it out be. It’s a no-brainer for Apple to showcase its customer service, especially because it stands out so easily from its PC competitors. Apple’s customer service relies on its own trained employees in its own branded retail stores rather than phone consultations or the staff of third-party resellers. As a lifelong user of the company’s products, I recently found through personal experience that it’s truly Apple’s secret weapon. It’s not enough for Apple to say “we have world-class customer service.” It needs to show how access to Apple’s geniuses is an added value to buying its products.

So, while the way that Apple is sending these messages is not necessarily Apple’s ad team at its most imaginative, I do think it sends the right message, showing what you can do with Apple products and how the company, if necessary, can hold your hand to help you do it. Everyone already knows the iPhone and iPad, why not play up an intangible feature that potential new customers may not know about?

10 Responses to “Apple’s new ads not the work of geniuses, but still hit the mark”

  1. Would have been more suitable if these encounters with the “Genius” actually happened at the Apple store. These ads make it look like they want to be a Geek Squad competitor. But anyway…

    I understand that people in the tech press wants to put this in as positive light as they can, but I can’t shake the feeling that Apple just made Microsoft look cool and media savvy in comparison.

  2. WIth anyting in life, if you don’t know it can be done (especially how easily it can be done.) you need someone to show you. The ads showcase that people are there to help you do things you didn’t know were possible. No matter how easy they are, they mean nothing, unless you are aware of them. The commercials simple are there to let people know Apple has people who can help them, even with the simple things, that the Mac can do.

    I’m sure people who think they won’t work, are not the people who they are for. It’s for the people who don’t know and, will if they watch the ads, they are educated, which is the point.

  3. El Barto

    my mom and dad saw the ads and they have an iMac and iPads. My mom told me she didn’t know that the geniuses could help her learn how to edit movies…i guess the ad is not geared toward creating awareness of their products, but to showcase their ability to train and help people use the products they already bought.

  4. rabensam

    With respect, I don’t think the criticisms are exclusively from “tech types.” Nor is the sole complaint that the ads are too conventional. The most frequent complaint I’ve heard is that, to create a humorous situation and sell the product through humor, the ads go too far and depict the misguided customers as utter clueless fools. The ideal ad depicts the fictional customer as someone the viewer would like to be, or can identify with. These ads send the message to non-Apple users “Apple employees will be gentle and condescend to you while you’ll be making an ass of yourself with your ignorance.” It’s not a good message.

    • John R. Kirk

      “… to create a humorous situation and sell the product through humor, the ads go too far and depict the misguided customers as utter clueless fools.”-rabensam

      You may be right, rabensam. Then again, you may be very wrong. I watched the ads and not once did I picture myself as the man in the airplane, the expectant father or the man who bought what was “basically” not a Mac. But the ads did make me think about how there was help waiting for me at the Apple store if I needed it.

      • Richard W

        “These ads send the message to non-Apple users “Apple employees will be gentle and condescend to you while you’ll be making an ass of yourself with your ignorance.” It’s not a good message.”

        I agree with you on this. The advice of simply ‘drag the music from iTunes’ hardly needs to come from a genius! “Apple Geek” would be a more appropriate term! – certainly look like a geek. I think here in Australia running those ads would be a complete fail.

  5. patrick reynolds

    I think what you’re saying is true– the underlying messages are ‘correct.’ Problem is, they’re not demonstrated as interestingly as in past campaigns. They’re somewhat pedestrian and bring Apple back to the pack brand-wise. While they’re on-strategy, they’re off-execution, in my opinion.

    • John R. Kirk

      Everything seems easy – once one knows how its done.

      Many people say that these Ads mock Apple users. I couldn’t disagree more. People – real people – don’t know how to do many of the things that are being shown in these ads. In fact, most people aren’t even aware that these things CAN be done. These ads show people that an Apple employee will be there for then when they need them. That’s a wonderful and powerfully positive message.