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

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Apple’s 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?

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