Yet Another Rare Miss for Apple -- and We're Not Talking Earnings

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) is famous for many things, one of them being its bold, memorable, and unique ad campaigns.

The famous 1984 Mac commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, has frequently been touted as one of the best commercials ever aired, representing how the Mac stood out in a world of commoditized IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) PC clones running Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows at the time. Apple then followed up with its iconic "Think Different" campaign, tugging at our heartstrings while reminding us of some of the greatest triumphs in human history.

Next, the popular "I'm a PC/I'm a Mac" campaign was accessible to the average user, driving home the notion that Apple products are easier to use and adding a touch of humor with actors John Hodgman and Justin Long. These commercials even provoked a response from Microsoft, which released its own set of "I'm a PC" commercials showing a variety of Windows users in a positive light.

Apple also likes to use a product-as-hero strategy, focusing ads entirely on the product alone and letting it sell itself, as in recent ads for the MacBook Pro with Retina display or the new iPad.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Inspiration Room, Plus Creativity, Apple.

And then there was this guy: a bubbly Apple "Genius" who appears in ads entitled "Mayday," "Labor Day," and "Basically."

Somehow, after decades of home-run ad campaigns, Apple struck out badly with this set of commercials that aired during the opening of the Olympics. It's worth noting that Apple has also recently and uncharacteristically turned to celebrity spots with a series of commercials featuring celebs using its personal assistant, Siri. Those were simply boring, though; they don't make you involuntarily cringe like the "Genius" ads shown above.

The wrong message
The "Genius" ads portray Mac users as bungling and incompetent, struggling with computers that are supposed to be intuitive and user-friendly. They also make use of uninspired humor that falls flat. Say what you will about the nauseating "Rock God" spot, but at least that was just one bad ad -- not an entire series of them.

Even Ken Segall, an ad exec who worked with Apple and Steve Jobs for more than a decade, said the ads are "causing a widespread gagging response, and deservedly so." Segall contributed to naming the original iMac and recently released a book, Insanely Simple, detailing Apple's obsession with simplicity, so he knows the company pretty well. He added, "I honestly can't remember a single Apple campaign that's been received so poorly." Another former Apple exec, Jean-Louis Gassee, similarly called them "cringe-inducing."

The widely panned ads have now been pulled, with Apple's ad agency, TBWA/Media/Arts Lab, saying that the trio was always intended as just a "first run" weekend campaign for the Olympics. Thankfully, there won't be an entire series of "Genius" commercials, which would inevitably go down as one of Apple's worst ad campaigns.

Whether or not the series was truly intended for such a limited run is up for debate, especially since each of the three ads built upon the same branded Genius character. One thing is certain, though: For Apple and TV viewers alike, it's good riddance to bad rubbish.

Google "out-Appled" Apple
In contrast, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) recently began airing the first commercials for its new Nexus 7 tablet. The first, which involves a father-son camping trip in the backyard (within range of their home's WiFi network, which the tablet relies on for connectivity), has enjoyed a warm reception.

According to Ace Metrix, a television analytics company that evaluates video advertising, Google's "Camping" ad is far more effective than Apple's "Genius" ones, ranking higher in the researcher's scoring system. Ace Metrix exec Jonathan Symonds said, "Google has taken their strong emotional appeal and married that with strong product demonstration." Interestingly, these are strategies that Apple typically employs in its successful ads, so you could argue that Google just made a better Apple ad than Apple did.

Can't win 'em all
Even Apple is bound to miss every now and then (like in last year's fourth quarter or the most recent third). Ad campaigns play an important role in shaping consumer perception, and the last thing Apple should want is to make iPhoto seem like it's hard to use. Back to the drawing board.

The good news is that Apple still has plenty of things going for it, which you can learn all about with The Motley Fool's brand-new research service just for Apple. When you sign up, you'll also get regular updates on new developments as we monitor Apple so you don't have to. Sign up today.

Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Click here to see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft, Apple, Google, and International Business Machines. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a synthetic long position in International Business Machines. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


Read/Post Comments (25) | Recommend This Article (45)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On August 08, 2012, at 1:48 PM, MrSmith210 wrote:

    ? Not one ounce of any "proof" of any sort of "miss" here other than your simple stating opinions on their most recent ad campaigns.

    I'm confused on this article really.

    I feel like their Siri commercials weren't "amazing" but hey.. the 4S had been out for quite some time before they threw some dollars at some celebs to help market it one "last" time before the 5 shows up here in a month or so. It was worth the effort to snag some celebs to help push it.

    But if you check out the "results" from the ads for the new MacBook Pro with retina display, I think you'd be hard pressed to say they "missed" there. I challenge you to go buy a new MacBook Pro. I'm here in TX and literally every Best Buy and Apple store is totally sold out from San Antonio to Austin and you can only get one if you're lucky enough to snag one when the trucks deliver 5-10 of them each week. Definitely hasn't been an easy task for me to simply buy a new MacBook Pro.

    I have to believe it's got to be this similar in other parts of the country as well. I was shocked when they told me they were all completely out of stock all over South and Central Texas, but that certainly tells me the ad campaign worked well and these MacBooks are moving large numbers. Especially with the school year just about to ramp back up.

    Apple is hardly "missing" there. The Siri ads for the 4s.. sure.. I suppose you can make that argument. But that campaign was in place as a last effort to move 4S's before the huge 5 launch takes place. So to me, it's hardly a miss.

    The iPhone 4 (not 4S) campaign was HUGELY successful. The 4S wasn't pushed as hard this late into 2012 with the 5 so close. Why spend that money? Their focused on the MacBooks and new iPad campaigns. Not the "old" phone.

    You can bet the iPhone 5 campaign will be MUCH stronger and more effective in the very near future without question.

    But bottom line I guess, I think you need to evaluate WHY they did what they did with the 4S ad campaign late into it's sales/marketing process. And you should actually evaluate what they've done with their newest products (MacBook Pro refresh and new iPad refresh with the new retina displays) and I think you'll agree they didn't "miss" at all. They're moving those units in record numbers. And thus, I think we can assume the next upcoming product (iphone 5) will do exactly the same thing. They'll move close to 50 million phones in that holiday qtr.

    My two cents.

  • Report this Comment On August 08, 2012, at 3:22 PM, tmex1114 wrote:

    I thought the ads were OK. Certainly not as great as some earlier ads, but not a miss either.

  • Report this Comment On August 08, 2012, at 5:32 PM, Risky88 wrote:

    If your company is supposed to be leading edge and setting new standards.

    Then you put out crappy commercials.

    Yeah

    that's a miss

  • Report this Comment On August 09, 2012, at 12:02 AM, wordjunkie wrote:

    This article is absolutely right on. It's a terrible campaign, and it's one of the things making me rethink the stock. Steve Jobs would have never approved this ad campaign. Or a stock dividend. Or the stock split that everyone's talking about, and frankly I think might happen. There are a lot of decisions lately that don't seem like the Jobs way. How long before Apple becomes just another big corporation?

  • Report this Comment On August 09, 2012, at 1:07 AM, mmmm101 wrote:

    That's the whole point! Cook isn't looking to be Jobs. And if it is to be believed, Jobs told Cook to be Cook, not a copy of Jobs. I truly hope Cook is going to lead Apple to new heights, but the jury's out, so we'll see pretty soon - 1-2 years tops!

    Come on all u Apple zombies, the Genius ads were horrible!!! The Siri ads... not terrible by average standards, not good by Apple standards. I see where they're trying to go with it, but I'm middle aged. The question is, is Apple's main market me, or the 15-30 year olds? Honestly, the Palo Alto store always has people my age and older! If this is the trend and this is where Apple is going sell another 200 mill iPhones, we're all good. It's amazing to see 70 and 80 year olds getting tutored in how the iPad works. I see them all the time. Time will tell.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 12:46 PM, miljil wrote:

    My youngest is about to leave for college.

    I just bought her the latest and greatest macbook pro- retina display, all the memory and biggest SSD they offered. What an amazing laptop.

    What's all this fuss about commercials?

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 5:24 PM, FoolSolo wrote:

    When you set a certain standard and then you deviate from it, it can certainly be construed as a miss.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 5:37 PM, mdmays wrote:

    1. This article is just a rehash of what others have been blogging about for more than a week. I don't think the commercials are that bad.

    2. The best commercial in the world sold how many Macs?

    3. So what's the Foolish lesson we are learning here? Sell on sucky commercials.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 5:37 PM, EvanBuck wrote:

    Apple commercials aren't as huge of a deal at all as their other issues they have to deal with - stiffer competition from Google and Amazon (among others), a beleagured product line (iPhone 225 in the future? Really?), and a downer of an earnings report. Apple can bounce back from the doldrums, but only time will tell.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 5:51 PM, dmvcal wrote:

    Can't tell you how many people don't touch computers. Many of us who do think the world is like them, or, ought to be. Marketing is segmenting. The current non-users are a segment.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 6:03 PM, BlancheDuB wrote:

    I couldn't agree more! This is a BIG MISS for Apple. I get the sense that Steve Jobs must have been on top of the old ad campaigns as well as everything else Apple. Maybe Cook isn't there on this. Or maybe he doesn't care about marketing. Or maybe there's no one in their marketing department that's up to the standard and vision that Jobs had in spades. What a shame! As an old advertising creative director (and an investor), I'm really sorry to see such a bad follow up to the great ad campaigns of the past. While the Genius Bar is something unique and effective offered by Apple, and may actually deserve some strong messaging, it is a concept better left as a "closer" to every sale, or billboards on site at the Apple store. TV advertising for Apple should continue in the old Steve Jobs vein –– superb concepts based simply on the beauty of the product and how it functions in a seamlessly exquisite way compared with its competition. Or, if you must do the Genius concept, Mr. Cook, please go with the Genius from your former "I'm a PC, I'm a Mac" guys and let them tell the Genius story. We already love them and the spots have a decidedly Apple feel to them. Don't mess with success, Apple. You're messing with my portfolio!

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 6:11 PM, BarryInLA wrote:

    How can you compare the apple 30 second spots with a 60 second google ad in emotional attachment? It's a silly comparison. The only thing that counts in advertising is the metrics over the long term, and I don't think apple plans to share that information.

    This is the first time I saw those apple genius ads, and I thought they were on the mark and engaging for the messages they were delivering. And they did it in 30 seconds.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 6:40 PM, ullagolightly wrote:

    I agree that the "genius" ads are a miss but it is worth noting that the "celebrity Siri" ads are not Apple ads but AT&T's.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 6:45 PM, WonderBunny wrote:

    Historical note: The article states, "The famous 1984 Mac commercial...representing how the Mac stood out in a world of commoditized IBM PC clones running Microsoft Windows at the time."

    PC's and clones were still running MS-DOS 2.0 in January of 1984 when the Super Bowl commercial was aired. Microsoft did not release Windows 1.0 until November 1985, almost two years after the Mac was introduced. And its usability did not really approach that of the Mac until at least Windows 3.1 in 1992.

    Apple was truly ahead of its time with the release of the Mac. Of course, they owe much of that to Xerox PARC, but that is another story...

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 6:52 PM, Vexxarr wrote:

    Actually the Switch ads were rather reviled in there time. The "drugged up" girl spot was even pulled from rotation. In fact, Switch spawned a number of effective parodies that were more popular than the spots themselves.

    This one comes to mind...

    http://youtu.be/GWxC8ezE4Dk

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 7:26 PM, pkguitarman wrote:

    I'm not too worried about these adds. Apple shares will be at $1,000 five years from now and I will be pretty happy that I bought a bunch at $80.

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 7:51 PM, PoundMutt wrote:

    I do enjoy a good commercial. However, I'm 74 and have no desire to purchase an iPhone costing so much plus requiring an expenditure of $100 or more per month simply to use all its capabilities!

    However, since I own a few shares of Apple, I DO HOPE there are enough folks out there who will pay thru the nose for Apple products just to have the latest gadget!

  • Report this Comment On August 10, 2012, at 9:33 PM, JohnChisum wrote:

    Apple might have missed putting out a good commercial but nothing to worry about. Everyone is looking for them to fail.

    When the next model of iPhone and next version of iOS come out, all this will be forgotten as customers get both.

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2012, at 2:18 AM, sitaifun wrote:

    I like the genius ads; the Labor Day ad seemed, well, genius! It sold product capabilities as well as support in an exciting manner, all within 30 seconds. What's not to like about that?

    The article claims that the ads portray Mac users as bungling and incompetent, but the author just misses the point. In Labor Day the dad-to-be is comically over-focused on things that aren't so important as getting his wife to the hospital, and the genius expertly guides him to take care of the business at hand. In the Mayday spot, the customer is not incompetent, but under extreme pressure of a tight deadline, and he gets just the right push he needs to complete his work in seconds. Did you notice the customer is also ready to jump into action and tag along to help the next emergency case just minutes before the landing? Hardly incompetent, but empowered, all due to the help of the friendly genius.

    The Basically ad was not so inspiring, but I can recognize that it tries to portray that there is a big difference between Macs and those products that try to copy it. The included software is a big part of that difference.

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2012, at 12:58 PM, Ishmaelx wrote:

    Like people and empires, companies can become too absorbed in their satisfied, narcissistic selves to even see let alone stem their own decay and impending implosion. To those whose retinas are not distorted by Apple-fanboy lenses, both the Siri and the Genius ad series are indeed wretched, gag-inducing instances of the syndrome. And the short-lived Genius commercials are not some one-off outlier but rather an infection worming its way into Apple’s DNA, witness the proud labeling at Apple stores, at least in my area, of the tech-help and repair desk as “The Genius Bar.” One can hope otherwise, but if this viral trend continues, two digits rather than four are far more likely for Apple stock in the coming years.

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2012, at 7:55 PM, Morgana wrote:

    I remember when IPads came out. People were saying that the IPads were a "miss." What do you need an IPad for? Who is laughing now!

  • Report this Comment On August 11, 2012, at 10:02 PM, Lookn4betterdays wrote:

    I've owned AAPL stock for quite awhile now and am impressed overall, mostly based on product rather than ad campaigns. I hope they work through any difficulties at present and continue to do well. Traditionally I've been a PC user though---mainly because it's what I used at work for the most part. And, I tend to hang on to things and get good use out of them before I move on to try something new.

    Recently though (beginning of July), I was inspired to purchase the Macbook Pro Retina. THOSE commercials were impressive, & I read up on it as well before making the plunge.

    Presto-chango, the day I ordered it, the delivery time went from in-stock to 2 to 3 weeks. It's now well over 5 weeks later, and still not here. I kept thinking I would hear something in the press about why there is a backlog, etc., but it has been annoyingly quiet. Of course, "for Apple," silence is golden. I am promised it will be in this week, but now am in that "I'll believe it when I see it mode."

    Long story short, I am sort of surprised at the rather poor communications from Apple themselves to an individual customer as well as to the local shop (a small business). My local distributor seems to have their heads on straight and be making real effort, and I have a positive history with them.

    But I have to say I am less than impressed with the overly secretive source (realizing they have a tradition here). Its' lack of a better explanation about why it's taking so long is not impressive. While waiting, I admit to being annoyed at seeing continuing Retina product ads (as a signed and sealed purchaser who isn't being served). Hope I really like it whenever it gets here--if I don't decide to cancel and get something else before it does.

  • Report this Comment On August 12, 2012, at 8:16 AM, sept2749 wrote:

    I have literally been living off of AAPL in NYC for the past 5 yrs. Between calls, selling puts, selling calls and some cap. gains. I think AAPL is a much more profitable place then a bank and I feel the risk is negligible at my cost. Long on AAPL - no reason to sell at present time.

  • Report this Comment On August 12, 2012, at 1:56 PM, riwaterman wrote:

    why do I continue to subscribe to Motley Fool newsletters ?

    The newsletters are not all that good any more and the online articles are even worst.

  • Report this Comment On September 23, 2012, at 4:28 PM, daBeak wrote:

    I know I am late replying to this story. Fact checking should have been done first. The 1984 commercial had nothing to do with "PC clones running Microsoft Windows." DOS was the main operating system at the time and Wikipedia lists Windows as being introduced Nov 20, 1985.

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