Lost: Apple's Golden Opportunity to Market the Apple Watch

When one couldn't buy an Apple Watch in March, Apple was promoting it heavily. The result was frustration. Now that one can go into an Apple store and buy one, there is no highly visible marketing to create demand. The result is ennui.

Image credit: Apple

On July 7, my distinguished colleague Bryan Chaffin explored the report of a precipitous decline in Apple Watch sales. "Falling Sales Suggest Apple Watch Isn’t Resonating with Consumers." There, he suggested that:

...sales estimates like these from Slice are proof that Apple Watch isn't resonating with consumers and that Apple hasn't made the case for why they should have one.

In this analysis, I want to explore further the idea that Apple has failed to properly market the Apple Watch, just as production capacity is ramping up. In a conversation with Bryan, I summed up my reaction to Apple's original and evolving plan.

It’s a luxury. You can’t have one. We won’t tell you why you need it. We won’t market it to create demand as supply improves.

Golden Opportunities Missed

One can argue that paper magazines are so passé that it's no longer worth advertising there. And yet, in a recent issue of Air & Space magazine, I saw many ads for luxury watches, including Rolex. (More on Rolex below.) Breitling advertises there in addition to Aviation Week & Space Technology, often on the very expensive back cover. These ads are aimed at the right kind of aviation crowd in the right kind of venue. They know their audience. Where is Apple?

Apple should be in top gear on TV with ads for the Apple Watch. Now, I admit, I watch far too much TV, including the NHL, the French Open, Wimbledon, and action/adventure shows. Instead of Apple Watch ads, I'm seeing ads for the camera in the iPhone 6, a product that will soon be made obsolete by the iPhone 6s/Plus. Surely, Apple isn't restricting itself to advertising just one product at a time. Or is it?

At Wimbledon, Apple had a golden opportunity to get in the face of the upscale tennis crowd for two weeks by sponsoring that prestigious event. Every Hawkeye challenge could have had Apple's logo and watch in the face of the audience. Banners could have been everywhere. Perhaps Apple could have sponsored the serve speed display if it could have outbid IBM—which pulled back greatly this year. Apple could have moved in to fill that gap. Instead, who stepped up?


Big time.

Rolex is everywhere at Wimbledon.

Next Page: Early adopters are done. Apple needs to make the case to the middle adopters.

Early Adopters Lead to Middle Adopters


Early adopters jumped all over the Apple Watch. Writers too. The crescendo peaked in April when Apple planned to ship in quantity. Instead, Apple was unable to ramp up partly because of a reported production problem. "Taptic Engine Issues Behind Apple Watch Shipment Delays."

I personally questioned whether it was wise for Apple to push the Apple Watch so hard in April when, in fact, most people couldn't buy one. There were no lines, by design, in the Apple stores on April 24 to inspire. The Internet frenzy came and went in April and May. The ADD Internet hyped the product that couldn't be had, and now that it can be, Apple is being oddly quiet.

It didn't help that Apple Music came along to steal the news cycle from the Apple Watch. This was unfortunate timing as well. I don't believe that Apple Music is going to generate revenues equivalent to great Apple Watch hardware sales. The profits are huge on that hardware. And so at the very time when Apple Watch ads should be saturating worldwide television, we have instead stories about how Apple Music is corrupting files coming off a server, difficulties with playlists or corrupting people's metadata.

It's A Luxury. We Won't Tell You Why You Need it

Personally, I have come to depend on my Apple Watch. It helps me out in so many ways.

  • Apple Pay is a breeze. No need to fish out an iPhone and do Touch ID.
  • Answering a phone call and getting messages (and vital notifications) when the iPhone is in another room—or buried in a messenger bag—is awesome.
  • Tracking my steps and miles walked each day and transmitting that info to my iPhone for analysis is indispensable.
  • Always knowing the outside temperature, with a tap, is amazingly helpful.
  • With the calendar complication on my Utility watch face, I am perpetually aware of my next event.

In light of all the things an Apple Watch can do for the user, why are there no Apple TV ads that explain how this device can help people in their daily lives? Is it because the original marketing concept was that it's a luxury brand, bought on impulse? Is it because explaining product advantages is so boring on TV? Is it because watchOS 1.0.1 is too primitive to crow about?

The middle class in the U.S. is under some duress. Young technical professionals without excess discretionary funds are paying off student loans and struggling to buy a house. Uber replaces the SUV. Apartments replace homes. iPhone replaces a wristwatch. While a smartphone is a necessity of life, paid for with installments, one way or another, a $400 watch needs major marketing oomph to create demand in the middle adopter phase or it's going nowhere.

Apple has had plenty of opportunity to be in our face everywhere with demand creation advertising and has flubbed so far. It's no wonder sales are tanking.