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Sales results prove the (negative) value of Apple's in-house advertising

If you want something done wrong, do it yourself.
Courtesy Bright Orange Advertising, by permission

Now it's officially proven: Apple Computer's in-house advertising agency, which the company set up to compete with its real ad agency, has a fool for a client. For over a year, the 1,000-person ad team that Apple assembled to gain greater control over Apple's advertising has been competing with TBWA/Chiat/Day's Media Arts Lab. The latest sales results, reported by Advertising Age July 22, confirm what earlier testing suggested – that Apple's losing, big-time.

During the course of the past year, Apple management has been conducting shoot-outs between creative work from the in-house folk and TBWA. The in-house work won for the iPad Air campaign, while the TBWA work won for the iPhone campaign. And you'll never guess what happened.

Sales results confirmed what Ace Metrix consumer research suggested earlier: that Apple should stick to making computers instead of ads.

For the product with the TBWA advertising, writes Ad Age,

Apple sold 35.2 million iPhones, up 13% from the quarter a year earlier, and 4.4 million Macs, up 18%. That helped boost revenue by 6% to $37.4 billion in the quarter that ended June 28.

The results show Apple is withstanding competition from smartphone manufacturers led by Samsung Electronics...The gain, as well as hopes for coming products, has pushed Apple's stock up more than 18% this year.

This is in spite of "shoppers...delaying buying new iPhones, which will weigh on sales in the current quarter ending in September," according to Bloomberg News.

And for the iPads, with in-house advertising? Not so hot.

IPad sales fell for the second straight quarter, to 13.3 million, the company said in a statement today [July 22].

The drop in iPad sales is attributable to a market slowdown in the U.S. and Western Europe, Luca Maestri, chief financial officer, said.

Maybe. But it may also be more attributable to well-produced but amateurishly inept advertising creative work.

Apple's strategy was to sell iPads not as glorified gadgets or larger iPhones, but as honest-to-goodness tools for serious professionals. To this end, they used examples of serious professionals using iPads as honest-to-goodness tools.

But in a way that totally buried the message.

In television commercials, they show a series of vignettes. The vignettes show serious people doing serious things with their iPads, but you'd never know it. The scenes aren't obvious; in fact, only the in-house team at Apple knows what they're really supposed to be depicting. And the voice-over, which is waxing lyrical about the poetry of life, isn't the least bit explanatory.

The same problem affects their print ads, only worse. Apple has bought premium space at extra cost – four-color bleed on back covers of the New Yorker, for example – and totally wasted it, by totally ignoring the way that people read ads. According to research that's been valid since the 1930s, when George Gallup first conducted it, the first thing people's eyes go to when and if they notice an ad is the headline/picture combination. Then, the eyes go down to the logo. Finally, if that arouses their interest, they may – may – read the body copy. Of every ten people who notice an ad (and those are fewer than half of the readership), about one reads body copy.

So what do Apple's in-house ad whizzes do?

They show a photo, which occupies the full ad space, of some people doing something. In one case, it's three people, backs to the camera, apparently taking a photo of some Asian temple dancers on an iPad. In another, there are snowy mountains in the background and a woman looks down at her iPad while some guy behind her takes something out of her backpack.

Then they make the product name the headline, "iPad Air." That doesn't explain anything.

Then there's this long subhead, in relatively large type:

Everyone has a passion. A new idea to share. A stanza to add to the world's story. What will your verse be?

That, incidentally, is what the television voice-over says. In neither case does it tell us any more about what's going on here.

Finally, in the lower left-hand corner of the ads, in the effectively invisible small-size type usually reserved for all the legal disclaimers, is what the ad, and the whole campaign strategy is about:

Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal. Mountaineers Emily Harrington and Adrian Ballinger use an iPad to get detailed satellite maps and weather data to safely summit some of the world's highest peaks.

Oh.

The body copy for the temple dancers ad is just as small, disclaimer-like and invisibile:

Agra, India. Bollywood choreographer Feroz Khan uses an iPad in almost all aspects of production, from scouting locations and mixing music to framing each shot and and refining every dance move.

It's an impressive story. Too bad that, thanks to an in-house team building ads so as to guarantee that last things come first and vice versa, no one will ever see it (and be persuaded to buy an iPad as a result).

Maybe those falling sales figures will help Apple realize that when it comes to advertising, if you want something done wrong, do it yourself.

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