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Article: On Apple’s New Genius Ads

by on July 31, 2012

Originally, I did not feel the need to comment on Apple’s new TV ads, but it seems that on both Facebook, Twitter, and other tech sites, it seems there’s quite a bit of negative buzz on the new ads. Are they really that bad?

I don’t think so. While they don’t fit with a lot of ads from Apple over the past few years (white background, closeup of product in use, voiceover), it doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple is doomed. They do have a different feel, much like the iPhone 4S/Siri ads featuring celebrities, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Apple’s prior ads for the iPad or MacBook Pro with Retina Display are very understated and classy, but are sort of blending into the landscape. People could see those and eventually they’re ignored because they’re just another Apple ad.

Shaking Things Up

If Apple is trying something new with these ads, I don’t see a problem with that. They’re lighthearted, a bit cheesy, but still get the point across. The Genius position has already become part of pop-culture in movies and TV shows, so why not embrace it a bit and demonstrate that someone in that position (or the Creative position) does more than just sell you a computer or iDevice? Ken Segall felt that they should’ve found a guy that didn’t quite seem like what we think of an Apple Store Genius:

You’re kidding, right? He does an excellent job of fitting the stereotype of an Apple Store Genius, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. These spots are actually cast as if they’re sitcoms — with exaggerated characters like the father-to-be in Labor Day, or the passenger in Mayday, or the sleezy PC store owner in Basically. The spots try to make their points through comedy alone, with little sense of authenticity in characters or situations.

I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, much like Justin Long and John Hodgman were playing characters based on stereotypes of the kind of work Macs and PCs are used for.

Advertising the Store

I didn’t want to get into the argument of if these ads insult the viewers or make it seem like Mac users can’t even do basic computing tasks. They’re geared to show that if you need help, you can get it. As John Gruber points out, these are the first ads that really advertise Apple Stores. Sure, people may pass them in a mall, but this directly demonstrates how they’re different than places like Walmart or Best Buy for buying gadgets. You’re getting a gadget, but Apple also wants to build a relationship with you as the customer. Not counting charges for repairs, it’s not going to cost anything to ask a question or learn how to use your new device. That’s the big point.

Steve Wouldn’t Like These

I’ve seen a few comments already with people suggesting that ads like these would’ve never aired during the Steve Jobs era at Apple. That has to be one of the dumbest things I’ve heard, but that cookie-cutter expression has been said quite a bit since last October. I think John Moltz nails it:

Personally, I think these ads are problematic but can only be considered “embarrassing” when judged by a higher, Apple-only standard. Which, OK, yeah, that’s what we do. Some people seem to think the ads send a message that Macs are hard to use or require the input of an expert. I don’t think that’s true. The point of these ads is to say “If you’re concerned about switching, don’t be. We have these geniuses who make it easier.” That’s not a bad message, even if it’s not as good as the Switcher ads which said “Macs are so easy, you can just do it yourself.”

Apparently people have a short memory, since we had the John Madden-esque ads advertising the iPhone strengths last Spring, some spots for the original iPhone, or the earliest ad for the iBook G3 (which also takes place on an airplane) breaking the mold of a “traditional” Apple commercial. Who was CEO when those all aired? Even Cult of Mac compiled a list of terrible Apple ads. Still, The Verge’s Sean Hollister thinks these are the first stinkers for Apple:

Whether or not you like Apple products, it’s hard to dispute the power of the company’s iconic ad campaigns. From the famous “1984” ad for Macintosh, 1997’s “Think Different,” the 2006 John Hodgman / Justin Long “Get a Mac” series through to today’s iPhone ads, the work of TBWA/Chiat/Day has been consistently simple and clever, positioning Apple products as perfectly crafted moments of zen-like calm that make your life easier.

While I agree that most have been excellent, there were vast stretches of very uncreative advertising (the ’90s?), and even some misses in the ’80s (Lemmings).

Give It Time

As Craig Hockenberry stated that the ads are not for people who already own Apple products, but for people who might be considering them. From that viewpoint, I think these ads might have some traction. While, personally, I don’t think they’re Apple’s best work, I think this character could grow in future ads. Apple could simultaneously run these, the celebrity Siri ones, and then a look-at-how-beautiful-this-product-is and hit a number of different tastes and interests. I think a lot of people who don’t have any Apple products might be afraid to even explore what’s out there, or had a bad iPhone experience at an AT&T or Verizon store.

In the past few years, Apple has gained a number of new customers, thanks to the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Now, Apple needs to move these customers to a Mac, where the biggest profit margins are. Apart from running an ad that simply states, “Hey, you love your iPhone. Go get a Mac, you’ll like it, too,” Apple has to find ways to target those reluctant PC holdouts. Maybe these new ads will work, maybe not.

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