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Insider Tricks in Apple's Latest TV Ads

Hidden Dimensions - Insider Tricks in Apple's Latest TV Ads

October 16th, 2006

"In our factory, we make lipstick. In our advertising, we sell hope."

-- Charles Revson (Revlon Corp.)

Apple's latest TV ads cannot be thoroughly evaluated based on product claims, accuracy, or the opinions of expert Apple customers. If you go there, you just wind up frustrated and cynical. Instead, the ads have to be evaluated based on insider knowledge of advertising principles. Once you see the principles at work, you'll better understand why the ads are constructed the way they are. And why they work.

Consider the ad: Better Results which covers the production of home movies.

When you think about the process of video production, it's hard to ignore the fact that Mac OS X is running on the same Intel CPUs and video cards as PC counterparts. So it cannot be that the Apple hardware is superior. Also, the movie codecs are pretty much the same on the PCs and Macs: MPEG 2 & 4. So you have to ask yourself, what is the angle here?

Part of it could be the design of iMovie and its relative ease of use compared to say, Adobe Premiere. Once upon a time, Adobe Premiere was available for the Macintosh. So Adobe knows a little about this technology. Nowadays, Adobe is shipping a more consumerish version, Adobe Premiere Elements (APE), for $85. Can Apple's iMovie actually be so superior that Apple wants to spend millions of dollars on an ad campaign to tell us that?

Probably not.

I've read several reviews of APE, and except for some consumer support issues, typical for an $85 program, no one has said anything really bad about a fairly competent program. I suspect that people who get to know Adobe Premiere and APE can probably crank out a home movie that looks as good as anything created by iMovie.

So what's going on here?

Marketing 101

Seth Godin is a marketing consultant who has written a book called "All Marketers are Liars." (I used to be a Marketing Manager for Apple, so draw your own conclusions.) In it, Seth talks about the irrational wants of consumers. He explains how the culture creates apocryphal stories and sub-cultures that consumers seize upon. And then, driven by marketing and peers, they develop certain irrational needs and wants for their products.

Examples abound. Most cars are gas guzzlers and are destroying the planet. I must buy a Prius. The iPod is so cool. Any other music player is lame. All food containing fat is bad for you. Sony makes the best TVs. I should drive five miles out of my way to save three cents per gallon. New Jeans with holes are cooler than those without. And so on.

The result of this is that trying to confront customers with the facts in a 30 second TV ad is a waste of time. Instead, Godin instructs, advertisers should tell stories that pander to the consumer's world view.

And this is exactly what Apple is doing -- adhering to solid, proven advertising principles.

The world view of potential computer customers is that video editing, done by movie and television studios on powerful Macintosh towers, is also best done on an iMac with iMovie. They know Apple owns this industry. Just the feel of creating a movie on a Mac is a more appealing prospect. One would, it is suggested, no matter the underlying technology, ever be caught dead editing a movie on a PC. It would be like entering a Cadillac Escalade into a sports car Gymkhana. Could be done. Wouldn't be caught dead doing it. People would laugh.

Your kids would laugh.

And so, we come upon Apple's ad, Better Results. The title, in fact, suggests something that really isn't quite true. You may or may not get better results editing a home movie with an iMac and iMovie than a first class Sony Vaio and Adobe Premiere Elements. What the ad is really suggesting, through metaphor and humor, is the idea that the mere notion of editing movies on anything but a Mac is just as full of "Ewew!" as the guy in the dress.

Wouldn't be caught dead.

Another case-in-point is an example Godin gives about a company that sells double old fashioned glasses for alcoholic drinks. If you've ever been in a glass shop at the mall, you've probably seen one of these $100 chunks of beautiful, etched, leaded and thereby colored glass.[1] Blind taste tests have shown over and over that any drink tastes just as good when consumed from a regular water glass as one of these $100 double old fashioned glasses, but do you really want to curl up by the fire with a Robert B. Parker novel and your golden retriever asleep on the carpet and drink your single malt Scotch from a ... Ewew! ... water glass?

Isn't done.

And that's why many, many people spend $100 on a fine piece of leaded crystal to drink whiskey and why you'll buy a Macintosh to edit your home movies.

Some things just have to be done right.

This is what Godin means when he says that companies, in their advertising, should tell great stories about their products. Consumers are jaded. It's hard to keep their attention. If, in 30 seconds, Apple can tell a story, keep the viewers attention, make them laugh, and reinforce their fantasy world view, then the job is done.

The Counselor

Last week I discussed the idea of adult-supervision in the technical work place. That is, all too often IT Managers know a lot more about computers and related technologies than anyone else in the company. They can be beat up for not managing costs or security, but few CEOs can question the technical judgment of the IT Manager.

I also mentioned Martellaro's Third Law, which suggested that rarely does someone change their beliefs based on input from a peer. The law was couched in the language of a social law, that is, being a lament as opposed to an absolute. (Some people read it as an absolute and complained that their wife forces a change in their opinions all the time. This is a good peer to listen to.) In any case, Apple introduces an authority figure here.

Analysts are considered social superiors. They must have advanced degrees and extensive training. They must be licensed. They have privilege (doctor-patient confidentiality). And they help us with our personal problems.

What Apple and its ad agency have brilliantly insinuated into our minds is that Macs and PCs each have their strengths and weaknesses -- punctuated by an authority figure. (Although, in the context of this ad, suggesting that PCs are better at math was really just symbolic, not technical.) The authority figure in the ad suggests that these two systems can excel in different areas, but after the paying of mutual compliments is over, the PC still has some attitude problems.

What's going on here?

The first time I analyzed these ads, I proposed that the actors, Justin Long and John Hodgman, represented the computers, not the users. This interpretation was necessary in order to make the ads work in terms of advertising the Mac's advantages.

Now, however, I believe that the ads have made a subtle transition to having the PC represent the user. Apple is free to do this for their own purposes, so there's nothing wrong with that. We, as well as the other customers watching the ad on TV, know full well that computers are not petty. But their users can be. Especially the decision makers at work.

It's well known that IT Managers have a strong tendency to lay down the law and outright ban Macs in the workplace. If it weren't something trumped up, like "AppleTalk is noisy on the network" or "Macs don't speak Ethernet," then it would be something more creative and harder to question technically. "We can't find anyone to support them. It costs too much to support multiple systems."

I believe that this is the first Apple Get a Mac ad directed indirectly at IT Managers. We laugh when the PC (Manager) gets snippy and petty at the end because we recognize the symptoms. The laughter helps us remember that we've witnessed a familiar and painful behavior. We also note that an authority figure has gently discouraged this behavior.

Nice work in 30 seconds.

Self Pity

This ad, on the surface, is simply designed to augment the Counselor ad. In that ad, it is suggested that the Mac is better at creative endeavors, but one shouldn't conclude that it cannot do some serious work as well. So the ad points out that Macs have been running MS Office for years.

At face value, this is not a particularly subtle ad. It basically says what you think it says: Macs look better, last longer, and can run business software.

So far, pretty straightforward. But I also see the techniques of Seth Godin. An engaging dialogue also has vivid, contrasting images that satisfy our emotional needs instead of pounding us with technical facts. The ad invites us to fib to ourselves just a little. Justin's fabulous suit proposes to us that we have it within our financial power to, both literally and figuratively, lose the PC baggy pants and be sensationally cool. We can buck the system so long as we're low key and charming. And have good taste in clothes and computers. Some men might miss this point, but I doubt if many women would.

Once again, subtle marketing techniques underlie matter-of-fact advertising claims.

Ad Sense

These insider advertising techniques are fascinating to see. They're used for every product from toothpaste to beer to cars. What's important is that we as Apple enthusiasts understand the behind-the-scenes principles. Technical judgments of the ads cannot be made only on the basis of gut reaction, technical accuracy or surface effects. There are well-understood principles at work here.

The guy in the dress is not designed to be lewd, he's designed to remind us that a Mac's DNA is video. Anything else is just plain funny. We laugh at the PC IT manager for being narrow minded, in need of loosening up and some additional therapy. Our laughter reminds us of recognizable pain he causes in the business world. A vivid contrast in clothing panders to our sense that there are certain things we can do in life to really be cool. And they are within our grasp.

Best of all? These ads are working or they would have been pulled a long time ago.

[1] I believe it is trace amounts of gold that produce that awesome red glass.

John Martellaro is a senior scientist and author. A former U.S. Air Force officer,he has worked for NASA, White Sands Missile Range, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Apple Computer. During his five years at Apple, he worked as a Senior Marketing Manager for science and technology, Federal Account Executive, and High Performance Computing Manager. His interests include alpine skiing, SciFi, astronomy, and Perl. John lives in Denver, Colorado.

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