Apple Death Knell #66 - 'The Dream Is Over'

Apple Death Knell #66Meet Rob Frankel. He's a branding expert. In fact, he's, "The best branding expert on the planet." We know this because he tells us so on his blog. It must therefore be true. Mr. Frankel has a message for Apple fanboys, and it's earning him a spot in the Apple Death Knell Counter.

That message is ""The dream is over."" I'm not sure who he's quoting, but he put quotes around it, and I'm quoting him, so you know, double quotes.

Actually, here's the relevant passage from his blog post in full:

But hey, don't take my word for it. All you fanboys can keep believing, if you like. There are still millions of Beatles fans who don't want to accept John Lennon's announcement of the band's demise. Decades later, they still can't believe it. But believe it you must:

"The dream is over."

In another spot, he said:

I feel Apple's best days are behind them.

When I first approached this article (via Shawn King), my first reaction was to blink. Then I did a facepalm. Then I went reaching for the volume controls on my Mac because Mr. Frankel auto-plays some thunder claps on his site.

#lolthunder #1998called #isbloggerstillathing

That led me to another facepalming, and this one might leave a bruise.

The reason for all this head smacking is Mr. Frankel's Web-presence. His blog, for instance, is a site rather than a branded website. He has a branded website, mind you, but both the blog and the branded site look awful. No, the blog looks barely passable for 2003, while the branded website would have been pretty snazzy in 1997.

There's some massive irony in a branding expert so inexpertly managing his own brand, and it almost caused me to make the mistake of dismissing him. That's why I mention all this before I even get to the Death Knell. After watching some of his many, many TV interviews on topics such as Walmart, Obamacare, the NFL, Starbucks, the Today Sponge, Viagra, Playboy, Beer, Apple, and more.

The focus on these interviews is branding, rather than business fundamentals, business strategy, pricing, or other aspects of business. Watching him being interviewed on MSNBC, Fox News, CTV, CNN, CNBC, and Bloomberg Asia, it's clear that he knows his stuff when it comes to branding.

For those interested, he's also the author of The Revenge of Brand X.

So, when Mr. Frankel tells us that Apple's is "a failing brand," it's worth checking out. Unfortunately (or not, depending on who you are), Mr. Frankel's opinion on Apple's brand suffers from close scrutiny. He appears to base his assertions on unsubstantiated and erroneous suppositions.

Next: Beats Me

Page 2 - Beats Me


The premise of his blog entry, titled "Apple + Beats = Not So Good," is that Apple choosing to keep the Beats brand is an admission that the Beats brand is stronger than Apple's brand.

"By retaining the Beats name," he wrote, "Apple admits its own brand is not as strong as, or quite possibly weaker than, Beats. Which means that the cracks in the Apple armor are beginning to show."

I readily acknowledge that I was very surprised that Apple was keeping the Beats brand. Apple has never done so before, just as Apple had never purchased a hardware line before. Mr. Frankel's mistake is believing that Apple purchased Beats in order to get those headphones.

As I've written before, Apple purchased Beats to get cofounders jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, as well as to get the Beats Music streaming service (as well as its creative head, Trent Reznor). To get those assets, Apple had to also buy the headphone business. While that profitable headphone business constituted the bulk of the buying price, I believe it was the least important aspect of the acquisition.

That puts the choice to keep the Beats name in a different light, and I can't imagine for a second there are many people who think the Beats brand is in any way stronger than Apple's. Then again, I'm an Apple expert, not a branding expert.

So Many Ecosystems?

Mr. Frankel wrote, "Today, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices, there are plenty of other platforms with lots more to offer than Apple. Android, in particular, comes to mind, but there are lots more systems, with lots more apps from lots more brands."

Really? Lots more systems? With lots more apps? With more than Apple?

Come on, really?

There is Android, that's true. And there's Windows Phone. One of those ecosystems has a lot of apps. And there are lots of brands making phones, but they're all Android phones, so we've already covered that.

Yep, as an expert in the use of words, I call balderdash. Mr. Frankel's assertion is patently untrue.

Grandmothers Aren't Cool

He also argues that because grandmothers use iPhones, they're no longer cool, and that people are looking "for the Next Big Thing." Grandmothers use Android devices, too, so I guess we're going to see hipsters roaming around with ironic telegraph keys in their belt holsters?

If there was another paradigm to replace smartphones, Mr. Frankel might have a point. The only problem is that Apple hasn't yet invented the disruption that will replace the iPhone (or if it has, it hasn't yet released it).

Compounding his logical errors, Mr. Frankel concludes from the many ecosystems that people other than grandmothers can choose means that the world has had enough of Apple and its shenanigans.

"Users find themselves waking from the dream and asking why they're paying premium prices for Apple devices and systems that may be as good, but not better than, its competitors." he argued. "That bell you hear is the death knell of fashion brands as the public realizes its overpaying for under-delivery."

Note the delicious use of "death knell."

In that Apple continues to have record iPhone quarter after record iPhone quarter, I don't believe reality agrees with Mr. Frankel's argument. It's possible he is confusing share with sales and/or profits—lots and lots of people do so, but that's doesn't make it accurate.

Next: Talk the Talk

Page 3 - Talk the Talk


One of my favorite things is how he argues that Apple doesn't advertise technical achievements any more because it has become a fashion brand catering to the narcissism of the "average Joe."

From his piece:

Back when Apple took its productivity seriously, we'd hear all kinds of technical achievements over competitive platforms. Macs would smack down IBM mainframes and leave PC-based systems in the dust with an elegant ease. You don't hear those stories any more, because Apple's focus has, like so much of America, been dumbed down to cater to the self-interest of the average Joe, whose primary needs revolve around music, videos, social media and mostly other non-productive tasks. When it comes to pandering to the public's narcissism, Apple is tough to beat.

This assertion appears to be based on a fundamental and historical error. Apple stopped advertising "technical achievements over competitive platforms" in the late 1990s. This isn't recent, it is part of the foundational changes Steve Jobs brought to Apple that allowed the company to compete in a PC world that was (and is) engaged in a race to the bottom.

Abandoning that sort of advertising is part of what made Apple's brand so powerful. It is not a recent development that signals the decline of the brand.

Apple does, however, talk about technical achievements during its keynote events. From the performance of its home-grown processors, to graphics and rendering power, to the benefits of Metal, Apple has consistently touted its technical achievements over competitors when the audience is right.

That's a double fail for the premise.


Lastly, he talks about leadership. He starts off with a statement I strongly agree with;

As I've written here previously, there are Three Generations of Wealth: The first one earns it; the second one spends it; the third one loses it.

Yep, it's true, far more often than not. But Mr. Frankel is trying to apply that to Apple, saying, "Now that Steve Jobs is essentially a long-forgotten ghost, Apple is a second generation brand that has abandoned its fundamental vision."

Says you. Actually, says the guy who in 2010 or 2011 said that Apple's brand was so strong and so integrated into Apple's DNA that it would live long past Steve Jobs's involvement in Apple.

Seriously, he said precisely that in an interview on Fox Business when Steve Jobs's health was becoming a serious issue. Things change, but in this case, I think he had it right back then and is wrong now.

But what's worse is what comes next:

Its management mistakes driving revenue at any cost with the much more complex task of driving revenue while maintaining the brand integrity and leadership that brought it to prominence. Tim Cook et al are simply grasping at the lowest hanging fruit in order to generate the easiest money they can find.

Again, says you. There's zero subjective or objective evidence that Apple or its leadership is doing any of those things. This is the most egregious mistake in Mr. Frankel's reasoning, and I find it most disappointing.

Branding Expert

Many people who make it into the Apple Death Knell Counter are real numbnuts. That's not true for Mr. Frankel. His TV interviews show an articulate individual who is knowledgable, engaging, and interesting. He very clearly knows his stuff. He's not always right—for instance, he said that Facebook would go the way of MySpace—but he has been right quite often.

More importantly, he allows his work to remain archived whether or not he was right. I respect that. There are some people out there who edit their work without acknowledging those edits.

Whether or not Mr. Frankel is right or wrong, Apple is a beast of a different nature. The company has defied outside critics again and again and again. It's very difficult to apply conventional wisdom to Apple because the company's very business model is to defy conventional wisdom.

Accordingly, I think Mr. Frankel's blog post is going to prove just as prescient as the rest of the ADKC.