Like many, I am curious to see what Apple announces at Monday’s Worldwide Developer Conference.
There’s a sense that CEO Tim Cook needs to stand on the stage during the keynote and drop a bombshell because competitors are catching up in terms of tablet and smartphone sales, the company has been bombarded by a gauntlet of negative publicity as of late, and the last major product was presented with the iPhone 5 in September and the iPad 4 in October. Seven months of nothingness is an eternity in terms of product cycles, especially from a company beloved for innovating, even at the expense of products it already sells.
Watching the TED Talk by Simon Sinek in which he elaborates on why Apple has been successful, there’s reason to hope Apple isn’t at dire risk of losing the leadership position it enjoys in the tech world.
Unless Cook has strayed far from Apple’s core principles, we should still have confidence that this is a company that makes great products and puts the experience of using them, the ease and the aesthetics, at the forefront of its mission.
Armed with Sinek’s perspective, I took a comparative look at the way Apple is marketing itself compared to the competitors who seek to take it down a notch to seize market share.
The only problem when you are the most successful company in the world is that huge bulls-eye that grows on your back.
Apple appeals to our emotions in TV advertising, starting with the landmark Super Bowl ad that challenged the status quo with dramatic imagery of a runner smashing a huge screen in a reference to the book about a dystopian future in “1984.”
Apple shifted to humor with the famous “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials featuring actor Justin Long as the laid back guy getting rave reviews and John Hodgman as the stuffy nerd afflicted by viruses and crashing like PCs notoriously did.
Apple’s most recent TV ads have focused less on technical details and more on the impact they have in the lives of millions of users, reinforcing the emotional resonance that Sinek refers to: “Every day, more photos are taken with the iPhone than any other camera…”
It seems to tie in the best moments of life to their product, a device that we carry with us everywhere and feel a tinge of anxiety once we realize it isn’t in our pockets.
Contrast this with the ads produced by Microsoft, which is aiming to make their devices seem cool in the same way Apple advertised iTunes and the iPod by using musical vignettes.
If this ad were not so ridiculously over the top with the musical number, it would risk violating truth in advertising regulations. Unless there were mostly iPads. Not sure if it sends the wrong message, that the Microsoft Surface is the right tablet to toss around like Frisbees.
I’ve seen this ad go viral, but mostly by being shared by photographers who hate idiots who think it is more important for them to ruin our shot of the bride and groom at a key moment with their smartphone than for us to get the images the bride and groom are paying us to get of them.
Samsung has relentlessly mocked Apple users who wait in line for hours for the next gadget and characterizing them as old and unhip.
Such ads send a powerful message to Apple that it doesn’t need to skimp on the innovation. The fact that Apple and Samsung are locked in bitter patent infringement litigation seems relevant, but few people are aware of it unless they follow tech news as closely as I do. In the court of public opinion, it is now a race to see which one can introduce the coolest new features – ones which actually work — at the most accelerated pace. In that sense, Apple’s silence has given Samsung an edge.
This ad uses humor and is a literal mirror of the “I’m a Mac” spots that mocked PCs.
Google is most closely following the Apple formula by stressing various ways its products can enhance our lives. This commercial makes ME want to find this girl and tell her she needs to take him back.
And as a single father, this ad tears me apart while simultaneously reassuring me that even though I only have my daughter half the time and someday she’ll grow up to be her own person, Google will keep me there in her life to set her straight and true.
All of this certainly hints that Apple’s competitors are not only catching up on the technology front, but also when it comes to marketing that appeals to the emotional core that Sinek credits with making Apple the leader.
I have no doubt that Apple is putting the finishing touches on a dynamic presentation while some highly-paid ad agency is producing TV ads that will tug at our hearts in predictably wonderful ways and help us rationalize the additional cost of Apple products when we are standing in that line to be the first of our friends to boast about owning them.
Update: The executives involved in Monday’s keynote presentation at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) knew what was at stake when they walked into the building. They knew what the millions of people tuning in to liveblogs and the 5,000+ developers in the auditorium needed to hear. The subtext of the message: “We aren’t falling behind our competitors. Everything is great, so keep your heads about you…”
Cook and other speakers applied Asistotle’s model of rhetoric to the situation, keenly aware of the situation, well-armed with facts for reasoning, and offering up new tech toys and marketing spots for emotional appeals. In short, it was a chance to bring Apple devotees a bit of that ‘ol Steve Jobs magic even though Steve’s sadly gone.
Snarled marketing head Phil Schiller as he introduced the company’s new Mac Pro desktop 55 minutes into the program:
“Can’t innovate any more, my ass!”
This caused many in the audience to laugh, a not-so-subtle nod to those who have sensed blood in the water and turned on Apple as of late.
By all accounts, Apple did what it needed to do: push boundaries on device miniaturization and battery life, while also introducing new apps and services to make our lives easier.
The company also spoke directly to the stakeholders – those who use Apple’s system to build computer programs – by reminding them how dominant their market share remains and how much more profitable Apple-based apps for them.
Apple’s use of sophisticated videos with polished visuals and mood-evoking music tapped into the mode of persuasion that deals with putting the audience into a certain frame of mind. The apparent proof came in the form of powerful product demonstrations that gave viewers a hands-on look at how R&D translates into gadgets that we must own.
Cook placed a special emphasis on the branding on those gadgets with a special video and message promoting the words “Designed by Apple in California.” Schiller pointed out that the Mac Pro will be assembled in the USA. The cat-themed operating systems have been replaced by a new series named after aspects of California.
One could speculate that the subtext relates to Cook’s May 21 testimony before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which was critical of the company’s practices holding billions in cash overseas to minimize tax burden. Cook reminded the senators that Apple employs tens of thousands of Americans and still pays roughly $6 billion in taxes to the US government.
Watching an Apple keynote, it seems obvious that great care and attention to detail goes into understanding which emotional strings to pull and, to quote Aristotle’s Rhetoric, “the way in which they are excited.”
Perhaps Apple’s keynote failed to knock our socks off with any acts of magic, but expectations should always be managed. This presentation was about stopping the perception of hemorrhaging while defending the company’s right to remain king of the tech world. It was a warning shot across the bow of emboldened challengers like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!
“(Selling 600 million iOS devices) is not what drives us. We want to make the best products that people love more and use more than anyone else’s,” Cook said. He proceeded to dissect Android device software fragmentation, using pie charts to show how most users of the competing phones are still using software introduced in 2010 while 93% of Apple users are using the latest version of iOS.
Rhetorically speaking, while Google’s managed to produce significant innovation as of late and gain market share with cool advertising, Cook cut them off at the knees when inspecting the fine details that aren’t readily apparent at the consumer level. He appealed more to the app developers in the room who want to make money while using the latest, greatest platform:
“This is why we get so excited when we are working on a new version because we know we can positively affect millions of developers and hundreds of millions of users. That’s what we’ve been up to.”