By Kelly O’Keefe (@kellyokeefe)
For many Americans, the 2012 Olympics in London provide an ideal venue for social conversation through networks like Twitter and Facebook. But this year, long before the fanfare of the opening ceremonies had wound down, a lot of Apple fans were getting wound up.
Apple chose the Olympic ceremonies to debut new ads featuring an Apple genius as he comes to the aid of struggling computer users. That seems logical, but within seconds of the first ad running, social networks were flooded with messages criticizing the campaign. Here are just a few that caught my attention:
- “That Apple ad is the end of an era. Holy moly.”
- “I just don’t understand why they’d do that.”
- “What’s scary is they produced something that anyone else could have produced. I don’t remember that since the Sculley years.”
- “I actually thought it was a joke/not really an Apple spot at first!! Wow.”
- “Thus begins the slow decline back into ‘beleaguered’ land. ”
- “Jobs would have never approved and called them a cuss word.”
- “What has been seen cannot be unseen. Ouch.”
- “Steve is spinning in his grave.”
- “I’m really disappointed and for some reason brand letdown from Apple is worse than any other brand.”
Even Ken Segall, the creative director who worked with Jobs on advertising for both Apple and NeXT has expressed his concerns. Posting an article on his blog suggesting: “These ads are causing a widespread gagging response, and deservedly so. I honestly can’t remember a single Apple campaign that’s been received so poorly.”
So what’s all the fuss about? Three things that apply not only to Apple’s brand, but also to all brands:
Consumers look to consistency from their brands. Shifting gears is difficult for any brand and for Apple it’s unthinkable. Apple has worked very hard to connect brands with attributes like simplicity and ease of use. But in the new campaign the message has shifted to showcasing customers who apparently don’t know how to use their computers. The suggestion is that it takes a “genius” to figure out how to do simple functions like editing video. A dangerous reversal of messaging.
Differentiation is the key to brand success. We all know that differentiation makes brands stand out, and Apple has been at the forefront of breaking out of familiar approaches in their category to “think different” about their communications. But with this campaign, Apple seems to be thinking the same as everyone else. Online postings noticed the resemblance to a Best Buy commercial, or worse still the “Dude, get a Dell” ads. The brilliantly fresh look and feel we’re accustomed to with Apple has given way to ads that might fit any brand in the category.
At times of risk, customers seek reassurance. Crisis experts know that it’s unwise to tempt the fates by shaking things up when a brand is already at risk. So for Apple, this is a particularly bad time to monkey with their winning formula. Steve Jobs has been gone for less than a year, and the new management team hasn’t had a chance to establish itself. Given these circumstances, it’s just too easy for the critics to use the new campaign as proof that the new management doesn’t get it. Instead, the management team should be focused on proving that the values that made Apple great run deeper than one man.
If they’re wise, the people at Apple will pull the campaign and learn from this example. But even if they don’t, we can all learn an important lesson. Great companies and great brands are built on values and convictions that should last for generations of managers. So I’ll close with a quote from that should serve as a reminder to us all:
“The most admired companies in the world have one thing in common: They stand for something. The world can change, the market can change, their products can change – but their core beliefs remain the same.” – Steve Jobs