Maybe this is how Apple does it

Sitting in the stands at a baseball game the day after Steve Jobs’ surprise resignation from Apple, of course the subject came up.

“I wish I knew how Apple does it,” I said.

“I have an idea,” my friend Tom Gatermann said.

He asked how many Apple commercials I’ve seen. Not many, I admitted, since I don’t watch a lot of TV. He said that commercials about competing computers, phones, tablets, and other devices tend to talk about all the things they can do. It’s really ADD, and potentially overwhelming for someone who doesn’t live and breathe this stuff.

And Apple commercials, he said, focus on one thing. They show the product against a simple white backdrop, and they talk about one thing it can do. Just one.

“So people see that commercial and ooh and ahh over it, and the people who already have one learn how to do something they might not have known how to do before,” I said.

“I think so,” he said.

So, take a lot of style and design, then present it as a highly designed, premium product, and showcase one feature at a time over the course of years. And over time, the people who purchase those products learn how to use them and develop an attachment to them.

It makes sense.

The first time I saw a commercial for the Motorola Droid, I thought it was brilliant. iDon’t have a keyboard. iDon’t allow open development. iDon’t this. iDon’t that. Everything iDon’t, DROID DOES.

And to a guy like me, who likes versatility, that commercial was brilliant. But, once Tom mentioned that, it was easy for me to picture half the people I know–maybe 3/4 of the people I know–sitting on their couch and seeing the same commercial and shrugging their shoulders and saying they don’t care about even one of those things.

A lot of people will go and buy a non-Apple product anyway, in spite of the marketing, just because it’s cheaper or easier to find. And some people will like it. Others will be intimidated by it. Most buy it and use  it without fanfare, regarding it the same way they would anything else that costs a few hundred dollars. I own a lawnmower, a washing machine, a dryer, a range, a microwave, and a refrigerator. I paid a few hundred dollars for each of them. I certainly don’t get excited about any of them. I appreciate them when they work. I get irritated at the ones that occasionally don’t. But I don’t have a religious-like attachment and fervor to the things that do.

Then again, Whirlpool doesn’t market the way Apple does.

And I thought back to my journalism classes. I didn’t major in advertising, but two or three of my general journalism classes had segments that were dedicated to advertising. Most journalists will have to deal with advertisers at some point in their careers, so we had to know enough about advertising to be able to speak the language. And I remember an advertising professor showing what he regarded as the greatest ad campaign of the time. He showed us some Visa commercials. They showed people in exotic locales, having a great time, whether it was shopping at a market in Istanbul or dining at a fine restaurant in Paris. And the next-to-last line of the commercial was, “And they don’t take American Express.”

Simple. Hard hitting. Here’s something–one thing–great you can do with our product that you can’t do with a competing product.

What’s brilliant about Apple’s advertising, as opposed to Visa’s ad, is that there’s no reason you can’t do the same thing with the competing product. But Apple acts like they invented copy and paste. It works, because nobody selling competing products says anything that directly challenges that assertion.

It’s like Motorola and Verizon saying all the stuff their product can do, and Apple is sitting over here saying, “Now you can copy and paste.”

You can copy and paste with everything else–emacs has been copying and pasting and violating future patents with little fanfare since the 1970s, right?–but nobody else ever thought to mention it to anybody.

I don’t think Steve Ballmer jumping around and yelling like an overdressed and out of shape professional wrestler while showing people how to do mundane computer tasks like filing an e-mail message in a folder while standing a white room reminiscent of 1980s music videos would necessarily be a great ad campaign. But I think it might be better than what any technology company not named Apple is doing right now.

4 thoughts on “Maybe this is how Apple does it

  • August 27, 2011 at 3:15 pm
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    Richard Stallman sues Apple over kill-and-yank I mean cut-and-paste; film at eleven.

    (Yeah, I’m just piping up because Emacs was mentioned.)

  • August 27, 2011 at 10:43 pm
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    interesting take on the marketing aspect. As a follow-on effect, it would seem that techie-type people would gravitate to the Android device, and start writing programs there instead for the iPhone. The Android market is robust, and that’s part of the reason I went with an Android OS when I got a smart phone.

    The other reason is a rebellion against what the crowd is doing. My ear buds are black, thank you, not white. (Not that I use them with my phone, but that’s another discussion.)

  • August 29, 2011 at 9:56 am
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    You know what really chaps my a? Copying and pasting between applications on X. Emacs in a console, some graphical notepad or firefox app, and try copying and pasting. Broken in 2011.

  • August 29, 2011 at 6:24 pm
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    Yes, and 15 years ago that was the biggest complaint with mainstream Linux distros too. There are workarounds that work most of the time, but there shouldn’t have to be.

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