More advertising pros say Apple campaign was no stroke of genius

Two days ago, thanks to rising stock prices, Apple Computer replaced Microsoft as the world’s most valuable company in history.

Gone but not forgotten

But the stock of its gone but not forgotten “Genius” television campaign is at an all-time low with advertising professionals, who overwhelmingly believe the commercials sold the brand short.

Selling the brand short

New York copywriter Tom Carden spoke for the vast majority when he commented, “These goofy genius spots made Apple products seem difficult to master. Apple’s position is just the opposite.”

He also found executional as well as strategic fault. “[A]ll the casting was awful,” he added. “Both geniuses and Apple users seemed silly. Hard to believe they let these run.”

Other commenters suggested different reasons why Apple did let these run.

Wrong input?

Jeff Mullen, an associate creative director from New York, thinks it was because Apple didn’t listen to focus groups. “Hard to understand how these were approved, given clients’ propensity for intensive focus groups prior to media spends,” he says.

On the other hand, Tom Freyer, a creative director from Austin, thinks it was because they did.

“My guess is that this campaign emerged out of focus group ‘insights,'” he remarked. “As [William Bernbach, founder of legendary Doyle Dane Bernbach] once said, ‘We don’t ask research to do what it was never meant to do, and that is get an idea.”

Wrong idea?

Cincinnati creative Mark Aaronson believes it was a case of coming up with a bad idea and falling in love with it. “I’ll bet this was one of those times when the agency said, ‘Pleeeeease,’ and the client didn’t have the good sense to say no,” he guesses.

Wrong audience?

In writing to defend the campaign, Washington, DC, agency owner Susan Bodiker inadvertently puts her finger on what was wrong with it.

When she “went down to the Georgetown [Apple] store to get a mail problem fixed,” she recollects, she asked several “Genius Bar specialists what they thought of the spots and their cancellation.” In addition to thinking the commercials were “cute” and liking the fact that service people like themselves were the stars, “[t]o a person they said they loved the campaign (‘it showed the service side of Apple’) and were disappointed to see it pulled.”

Sometimes, particularly in a service, rather than product, industry, company employees whose jobs involve facing consumers are an important secondary advertising target of an  campaign.

But rarely, if ever, are they the target. And if they are, it sure doesn’t take a big-bucks television buy — the Olympics, no less — to reach them.

Wrong shift in strategy?

Award-winning copywriter, agency founder and all-around creative guru Tom Monahan hates the campaign as much as his less famous industry colleagues do.

“[T]he [Apple] spots were awful. Please take note: I used the words Apple and awful in the same breath,” he blogged.  “But as a fellow advertising vet mentioned to me, ‘Current Walmart spots are better.’ Wal-freakin’-mart!”

Monahan sees the campaign as executing part of a regrettable but inevitable strategy necessitated by Apple’s huge growth — growth that’s forcing it to become a mainstream rather than cult brand. “My initial reaction is that these commercials must have tested well against non-Apple users,” he notes.

And, yeah, when you’re the largest company in the world, the only way you can grow is to attract new users…I mean, by definition, it’s hard to be a renegade [brand] when you have dominant shares of the personal computer, smart phone, mp3 player and tablet markets.

Maybe the question isn’t how did this pedestrianizing of Apple happen[.] Maybe it’s how it has taken this long to happen[.]

Back in the early 1980s, when desktop computers were seen as new-fangled business machines, Apple made the disastrous mistake of positioning itself to conformist executives as “the computer for the rest of us.” If Monahan’s right, this time they may be erring by going too far in the opposite direction.