Rethinking Apple Stores, Rethinking Apple Marketing & Advertising
May 18th 2000

I'm gon' drop the funk bomb on ya.

George Clinton, from Apple's "Rip. Mix. Burn." commercial

Free Your Mind and Your [Butt] Will Follow

Title of a 1970s George Clinton album

For the longest, one of the biggest complaints about Apple's advertising and marketing is that it isn't hard hitting enough.

"Come on, Apple! Stop the warm fuzzies, and give us some substantive, right-between-the-eyes, 30- and 60-second infomercials that will once and for all, without a shred of doubt, spell out why the Macintosh Advantage really and truly is an advantage compared to the Dells and Gateways of the world."

You've said that at least once or thrice, right?

If you look at what Apple is doing through the myopic lenses of short-term benefits, you are right. But if you look at things through the lenses of a multi-year perspective, a better picture comes into focus. I could be wrong. I could have had too much Kool-Aid this morning, but I believe that I'm starting to see a clearer picture here. At least that was the doctor's response to my most recent Rorschach-test results.

Look at it this way: if you view Apple advertising efforts in isolation, they may appear less than stellar. After all, you can argue, Apple spends more air time on advertising the brand ("Think Different.") and promoting comparative intangibles ("Rip. Mix. Burn."), while the competition highlights the things we feel that shoppers deem important ( i.e., every Pee Cee commercial is a litany of specs and feature charts).

I contend that Apple is leading the way -- natch -- to the next level of computer advertising the same way it has always led the industry in industrial design, OS design and incorporation of emerging technologies. By contrast, let me give you the most insane f'rinstance I can think of: the latest Intel ads featuring the "Blue Men Group."

What the HELL does blue-skinned people frenziedly rubbing themselves against an orange "4" have to do with the Pentium 4 processor? Nothing. Yet, Intel is using those three orgasmic-dancing freaks as the lynchpin for its advertising thrust. (God knows why.) Intel realizes that marketing the brand is more important than double-glazing your eyes with a recitation of numbers -- half of which Joe Six-pack won't understand anyway. But this is where Apple diverges from what these advertising losers are doing here, now and in the future.

Enter the Apple Store, coming soon to a major city near you.

Digital Lifestyle? Nope, it's a ‘brand style'

On one side of the Great Divide you have a chain of stores, where customers are given hands on experience with Apple hardware and software products under the tutelage of Apple-paid and Apple-blessed staffers. On another side you have Apple ads that market a "brand-style." On another side, you have a web site where you can build-to-order virtually any Mac you want. Couple this with both the Apple web store and with the retailers out there who actually do a good job at selling Macs and have nothing to fret from an Apple retail store (Micro Center?), and you get a multifaceted marketing campaign that may prove to be most complete name-brand blitz in the consumer computing industry.

I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft one day opens its own stores sometime in the future, á la Apple and Sony. When Microsoft copies you, you can rest assured that you are onto something. But you'd better hope that you have the idea well associated with your company so that it will be no mistake where the idea originated.

I'm digressing.

Hold on a minute. My peyote is causing me to have a vision: The future of consumer electronics (of which the personal computer will prove to be just one of many) will issue forth from companies that distinguishes themselves from the competition with "brand style" marketing and advertising sitting on one side of a blurry line of distinction while the compelling product resides on the other. Apple is merely the vanguard of retailers to come.

We will one day get to the point where the consumer can't tell the difference between the ad and the product. Ditto for the company and the product. Ditto for the ad and the company. That, methinks, is the image that Apple is trying to cultivate.

The future of advertising and marketing could very well be summed up with "the company is the message." This is the message that Apple is pursuing with the multi-sided message consisting of it web store, its physical stores and its advertising campaign. In truth, Apple is already a message. Steve Jobs has been saying this since 1997. The Apple Store is merely the penultimate manifestation of this belief. More will follow.

I'm not saying all of this because I "believe" in Apple. I'm saying this because Apple is the only company in existence that can pull off something like this. That and the fact I'll put Steve Jobs' kahunas up against any other CEO's out there. Apple has the critical mass in marke tshare, the "fan base," the media-darling quality, and the Wall Street vote of confidence (wholly, anyway) to launch what is a needed component in growing its market share -- the only thing that will shut up the critics. Correction: nothing will shut up the critics

It's a fuzzy picture right now, but the same way that a sketch artist uses "restatements" to morph a few pencil lines into a work of (line) art, Apple will use its ostensibly "weak" advertising campaign and "bad idea" retail stores to develop a cumulatively compelling photo representing one of the best choices in personal computing.

When it happens, I'll be one of the first ones to publish my "I told ya so" column. Actually, I may not even do that. That's getting "old."

Your comments are welcomed.