Apple takes a giant step backward in advertising strategy

If you nodded off during the longest and arguably most boring Academy Awards broadcast in history last night, you missed a major shift in Apple advertising strategy – from end benefits to nuts-and-bolts product features.

Even from Apple, nuts and bolts are just nuts and bolts.
Even from Apple, nuts and bolts are just nuts and bolts.

Even if you managed to stay awake, you might have missed it, because executionally, the spots spots maintain the clean, white, minimalist Apple look and feel.

But that notwithstanding, they’re no “1984,” where the only thing said about the product was that the new Macintosh was why 1984 wouldn’t be like 1984.

They’re not even the 2006-2009 “I’m a Mac” campaign, which used individual product features, but in a way that said without blasting it that Macs were easier to use, more versatile, more dependable, and more adapted to business and lifestyle use than clunkier Windows machines.

Because instead of reaching out to consumers about the general awesomeness of the brand or about the benefits of any of the products, they concentrate on individual, nuts-and-bolts features – features which may be involving and endearing to their creators, but in and of themselves (which is how the spots present them) hardly justify plunking down $199 to $499 for an iPhone, iPad Mini, or full-size iPad.

That also holds true for others of this year’s Apple commercials that weren’t part of the $1.8 million-per-30-seconds buy.

Worth the money?

Would you spend $199 on an iPhone because its microphone lowers background noise so the person you’re talking to will hear less of it?

Or would you spend $199 on an iPhone because it has a do not disturb feature that keeps it from ringing when you’re dreaming? (My dumb phone has one of those; it’s called an off switch.)

Or would you spend $499 for an iPad just because you can edit together found video to make home movies?

Apple must think you would, on the strength of those features alone, or else they wouldn’t have devoted an entire commercial (or, in the case of iPad movies, several commercials) to them.


This year’s crop of Apple commercials also includes four demonstrating that the iPad Mini is, in its capabilities, just like the full-size iPad, only smaller.

Maybe they think that’ll win consumers away from Android tablets, but the main message it communicates is, “Hey, why get a full-size iPad for $499 when you can save $170 and do all the same cool stuff with a Mini?”

Even selling lots of colorful Mini covers (another feature) won’t make up the difference.

Trading customers up is a profitable sales strategy. Trading them down – spending millions of dollars on air time and production to decrease your own gross revenues – isn’t.

Remember the hierarchy of sales points

As we pointed out here three years ago, there’s a hierarchy of sales points that advertisers ignore at their peril.

Features – things built into the product or service –  are the weakest of sales points because they’re inside baseball; the brand essentially talking to itself about itself (as Apple is doing this year). And consumers are understandably far more interested in themselves than in your product.

Attributes – qualities or characteristics resulting from a feature – are stronger than features because consumers can actually see or experience them, but they’re still the brand talking to itself about itself.

With benefits – good things the brand’s features and attributes do for the consumer – advertising gets much stronger and more persuasive. That’s why the 2006-2009 “I’m a Mac” campaign was so good at boosting Apple’s market share. Most successful advertising campaigns focus on benefits, because benefits talk to the consumers about the consumers. Too bad Apple forgot about them.

The whole reason you buy advertising is to persuade a target audience to buy from you. And you do that by talking to your audience about themselves, not you. Any adult in the marketplace who doesn’t think about what’s in it for me is either a fool or a masochist.

Just because you love one of your product features, that doesn’t mean anyone out there in the marketplace will. So if you get carried away with an overwhelming urge to advertise that feature, save yourself some media and production money.

Buy an iPad for $499 (or a Mini for $170 less), make a home movie, and play it over and over again for yourself.