Is Money Making Apple Stupid?

Hiring 1,000 advertising executives to improve the brand smells like needless excess.

Jun 12, 2014 at 12:05PM

According to Ad Age, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is planning to build an internal team of close to 1,000 advertising and creative executives to compete with the company's external marketing partners, including longtime ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day.

Mad strategy
Color me displeased. Why? I'm having a hard time seeing the benefit of bringing on so many people just to keep external agencies honest. And yet that seems to be precisely what CEO Tim Cook and team have planned. From the Ad Age article:

Amid criticisms that it has failed to innovate, Apple is increasingly taking marketing into its own hands. It's madly building an internal agency that it's telling recruits will eventually number 1,000 -- the size of Grey Advertising. It's pitting TBWA/MAL against this internal agency with "jump balls" to mine the best creative ideas, a controversial tactic with outside agencies, let alone an internal one.

Of course, Apple should beef up its advertising. Recent campaigns haven't resonated with consumers at the level investors are used to. Nevertheless, I'm unconvinced that paying up for a small army of Madison Avenue talent amounts to a good use of capital.

Apple's "I'm a Mac" ads are now the stuff of legend. Can hiring ad executives bring back the magic? Credit: Apple

Where will they add value?
I'm a former PR and marketing executive and I've worked at agencies, so I know the value of what Apple is proposing. Competing for business is par for the course. And yes, it's always smart to test ideas with a wide range of people inside and outside the company. Hiring 1,000 to get a quorum is probably overkill.

As an investor, I wonder if Cook would be spending like this if Apple didn't have $150 billion in cash and investments socked away? The whole affair has a "we're Apple and we're loaded" feel to it. To me, a longtime shareholder, it comes off as unseemly.

And we shouldn't forget that it wasn't long ago that Cook was playing a game of PR chicken with Carl Icahn and David Einhorn over uses for Apple's obscene sum of cash. And while returns on equity and capital are good, they're also falling. (Down from 42.8% and 35.4%, respectively, in fiscal 2012 to 30.6% and 23.7% last year.)

Fortunately, excessive hiring isn't likely to mean much at this stage. Apple has far too much capital on hand for that. Yet the pattern is still troubling. Money is great, Mr. Cook. Just don't let it make you stupid.

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Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Apple at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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