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Anyone concerned about the imminent decline of Apple following the passing of its visionary leader Steve Jobs can go back to worrying about climate change or the Mayan calendar doomsday. This week’s quarterly earnings report blew the doors off investor expectations: profits up 94% over a year ago; highest ever Mac, iPhone, iPad sales in a March quarter; cash above $110 billion; it’s Camelot in Cupertino.

Even Iron Man in the new Avengers movie sustains more damage than my aluminum MacBook Pro.

Even Iron Man in the new Avengers movie sustains more damage than my aluminum MacBook Pro.

Apple has been top of mind a lot lately. I recently recounted my self-administered laptop damage travel fiasco that occurred at SmartPark (I know, right?). Incredibly, despite running over the edge of my MacBook Pro when the laptop case flopped over as I parked, the tough aluminum case was bent but not broken. The CD drive, which looked to be affected, wasn’t. The display was compromised but only in the upper right corner. Less than 24 hours at the Apple Store restored it to pristine condition. Can you name another product that can take that kind of licking and keep on ticking?

While my Mac was in for repair, I spent the weekend in Manhattan and had the chance to visit the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue. It is just below ground, but by the stairs or glass elevator that take you down, it feels like you are entering the Starship Enterprise. This is a company that knows how to fire the public’s imagination and desire for all things digital.

Beam me down, Scotty, to the planet Apple below Fifth Avenue in NYC.

Beam me down, Scotty, to the planet Apple below Fifth Avenue in NYC.

I am not a huge cellphone guy, but I have had an iPhone for about a year and it’s wearing me down. I don’t need to be on it  all the time, but I find myself using it for so many different things. In the car, it’s my GPS and my iTunes feed. In a long line at the store or restaurant, it’s my e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter access. In bored moments, I find myself downloading really useful apps like the Flipadelphia cup flipping game from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Obviously, with the explosion of iPhone and iPad users out there (including a burgeoning market in China), Apple’s future is looking mighty rosy. Even a Justice Department investigation over possible book publisher collusion on digital book pricing is little more than a minor distraction.

The cool factor has always been there in Apple advertising. From 1984, through the PC and Mac guys, and the iTunes tunes, Apple has managed to capture attention, set trends, and create demand for its amazing products. Now comes two new TV spots featuring celebrity users of the latest generation iPhones with Siri capability. Although Apple has enough cachet on its own, it doesn’t hurt to trade on the current popularity of Samuel L. Jackson and Zooey Deschanel. Neither spot is ground-breaking, but both are fun and play to the strengths of the actors at quiet moments at home with their digital personal assistant.  The reviewer from Advertising Age found them somewhat misguided and with the strategy adrift now that Steve Jobs isn’t captaining the ship. Still, the spots are scoring well with consumers. Right now, I think you could replace Jackson and Deschanel with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Snooki and it wouldn’t have any effect on Apple sales or popularity. The economy might be hurting, the California economy in particular, but in Cupertino, it’s the gold rush all over again.

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With each new profile of the late, truly great Steve Jobs (current cover story of Rolling Stone is especially well done), and with each new Apple announcement, we are reminded daily that at least one sector of the economy is doing just fine — the Steve Jobs sector. The man was a one man jobs-creating machine. It is isn’t just Apple (Mac PCs, iPods, iPhones, iTunes, iWantOneOfThoseToo), but all the companies whose ancillary products are made in support of Apple’s, plus the entertainment industry with music, videos, movies, shows delivered to your device du jour. He envisioned products that never existed but that the public will clamor for. Such as the iPhone 4S with a virtual personal assistant named Siri who is a fountain of answers.

One of the Jobs story angles I have found most fascinating and uplifting is his half-Syrian family tree. No one has written better about it than the insightful and eloquent Fouad Ajami (Wall Street Journal subscriber content only, I’m afraid). The news that adopted Steve Jobs’s biological father is a Syrian-American has been resonating throughout the Arab world. It should, and hopefully will, be a constant reminder that with more power and freedom in the hands of people, many more Steve Jobs can blossom and enrich humanity.

Unfortunately, even in the West, there is an inclination to control and manage and central plan the economy via government at all levels, but especially in DC. Hence, the Administration’s heavily flogged jobs bill, which promotes the creation of jobs in the public sector, and will in turn diminish the struggling private sector. We need both, but right now, the balance is badly off and the results aren’t pretty.

Employees Must Wash Hands, a Public-Private Sector Regulatory Cooperative

Employees Must Wash Hands, a Public-Private Sector Regulatory Cooperative

A trip to the Men’s Room yesterday at a Sonic fast food restaurant was a reminder that all regulations, or executions of regulations, are not making life better or clearer, except for providing unintended humor. The obligatory “Employees Must Wash Hands” sign has been upgraded with step-by-step photography, detailed instructions, and bilingual sections. Instead, I’ll take a handwashing reminder and recommendations from Siri any time.

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Two weird copycat cases in the business world this week. Both are hard to get your head around because each is very different and covers new ground.

In the ad world, Old Navy is running a new commercial starring a Kim Kardashian doppelganger named Melissa Molinaro, then tweeting about it. Kim’s response — sue the retailer for blatantly trading on her appearance and pop culture identity. Lookalike models have been employed for years to sell product. Sometimes in person and sometimes in TV spots. This case is a lot more complicated.

It would have cost Old Navy hefty upfront money to hire the real Kim Kardashian as a spokesperson or performer in their new commercial. So, the retailer staged its own music video spot and used an unknown dead ringer instead. When the double takes started, they could have claimed coincidence about the model’s striking resemblance to Kim. Instead, they went on social media and tried to create additional buzz by getting fans’ reactions to the new ad. One tweet read  “@CBSNEWS reports that Old Navy’s Super CUTE star looks like @kimkardashian. #LOL. What do you think?”

Hard to quantify what the real Kim Kardashian would have delivered to Old Navy; however, she and her attorneys are projecting 15-20 million dollars in lost revenue that Old Navy should have delivered to her. That’s a lot of tees and khakis.

Clearly, the retailer is trading on Kim’s popular persona. So, why not hire the real McCoy? Was Old Navy intentionally trying to save money or to be cheeky (pun intended)? Likely, they were trying to do both. But it may wind up costing them a lot more money in the long run. Even deceased celebrities, whose visages have been resurrected for commerce (Fred Astaire dancing with a vacuum cleaner comes to mind) had their estates compensated through licensing arrangements. It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, but Kim Kardashian has a compelling argument.

TV commercial lookalikes are one thing. How about an entire retailer that has been copied right down to its wholly unique store layout, customer support system, and point-of-purchase branding? Forbes and other major news outlets report that someone is opening computer outlets in a remote part of China that are the spitting images of Apple Stores. Counterfeit retailers selling counterfeit hardware and software.  Shiver me timbers! How can that be anything but a blatant act of piracy?

Apple’s Board of Directors is currently looking at succession plans for when Steve Jobs leaves the company. Perhaps they should worry that he not be kidnapped, then cloned. Originality is still to be admired and protected.

Update: From Reuters comes news that the viral nature of the fake Apple store story has created a point-of-sale frenzy of angry customers confronting belligerent employees. It is still unclear whether the products being sold are genuine Apple products or knockoffs, but it is abundantly clear that the store is not an official Apple retail outlet in China. Caveat emptor. And once again, sunshine is the best disinfectant.

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Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" 2-minute SuperBowl spot

Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" 2-minute SuperBowl spot

Originally, I was only going to devote one post to SuperBowl commercials. However, a lot of blog-worthy controversy erupted over two banned spots going into the game. By last Sunday, the majority of spots were posted to YouTube and elsewhere prior to the game that I was able to blog about my favorites even before kickoff. This week, on to other marketing matters. Well, not quite.

Last Sunday’s SuperBowl set the all-time TV viewership record, 111 million viewers, eclipsing the prior year’s Saints-Colts matchup of 106.5 million viewers, which had finally beaten the long-held record of 106 million viewers held by the 1983 finale of M*A*S*H. Wow, now that’s 222 million eyeballs (give or take a few fans who may have finally dozed off during the Vince Lombardi trophy ceremony).  I would say that all those advertisers who shelled out $3 million per 30-second spot got their money’s worth in viewership.

Well, maybe not, and that’s the reason for Part III. A week later, people are still talking about SuperBowl commercials on talk radio, in social media, around the water cooler, but not especially in a good way.

It’s not like 1984 when Apple’s vision of the digital future smashing an Orwellian present with a Thor-like hammer seized everyone’s attention and imagination. This year’s conversation was all about specific “what were they thinking?” controversies.

The spot that I think came closest to a “1984” statement was Chrysler’s 2-minute gritty ode to the resilience and spirit of Detroit, featuring Eminem, unidentified at first, as he drove viewers around his hometown and the voiceover narrator shared some pretty inspirational thoughts. It resonated with me and a lot of other viewers. At least until I multiplied 30 seconds times 4 and arrived at a $12 million advertising media price tag for a car company that just two years ago was getting bailed out by Uncle Sam. Hard to make those numbers add up. The line between “warm and fuzzy” and “fuzzy math” got a lot blurrier.

Creatively, my favorite work from the SuperBowl is still Audi’s, although not a huge number share my opinion. I hope the car company sticks with this campaign and gives it the exposure it deserves. I posted a link to last week’s blog in five different ad and marketing LinkedIn groups I belong to as a way to get discussion going about the SuperBowl spots. A lot of people weighed in with their own favorites, thoughts on the controversies, and insider baseball. Kerry Antezana, a Creative Director from Seattle, shared this particularly good link to the BrandBowl site that blended stats from Twitter responses to pick ad winners (Chrysler for overall, so maybe that $12 million was well spent).  There were a lot of comments that everyone was underwhelmed by the creativity of this year’s spots, but that even the lamest spots resonated more than social media’s role in all this.

Edginess of spots did not automatically mean people were talking about them. Doritos scored more for their amazing pug on a hunger mission than the cringe-worthy ad where a cheese-flavor-obsessed Doritos lover sucked the fingers of a co-worker and pulled the cheese-dust-covered pants off another.

However, Pepsi Max managed to turn edgy humor into racial controversy on the floor of the U.S. Congress when Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee denounced its stereotypes as a sorry distraction from Black History Month. I don’t think most viewers saw it that way. It was more about relationship humor, but it was neither funny enough nor edgy enough to register much on either the laughs or controversy scale.

The biggest controversy belonged to Groupon, who sought to have some snarky fun with the seriousness of social causes, by having Tim Hutton flip the mention of political turmoil in Tibet around to this week’s Groupon deal for Tibetan restaurant cuisine. Tasteless? Yes. Intentional? Yes, in a Saturday Night Live commercial parody kind of way. Successful? Obviously not, in light of the nearly universal righteous anger it generated. Some of the posters in the LinkedIn discussions noted that it may not have affected Groupon as much as originally predicted, but by week’s end, the company pulled the offending spot.

Closing thoughts. When you are spending $3 million per 30 seconds of SuperBowl time, a little more spent for a focus group might be warranted (not to tweak creative, but to act as a canary in a coal mine). As for the impact of all this? Put in the context of events in Egypt this week, it’s a little silly and a lot self-important. The freedom we have to enjoy the NFL, commercials, and commerce should not be taken for granted. Here’s hoping for a better life for Egyptians, Tibetans, and the rest of the world.

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