Apple advertising: too simple to win awards?

With the release of the iPhone 5 comes the latest batch of Apple product demo ads. They are as elegant and simple as ever, but don’t expect them to win many industry awards

With the release of the iPhone 5 comes the latest batch of Apple product demo ads. They are as understated and simple as ever, but don’t expect them to win many industry awards

Each of the iPhone 5 ads takes a separate new feature of the phone as its subject matter. Here, Apple introduces its new ear-friendly headphones (mind you, if it was so obvious that they should be designed this shape, why was Apple giving us the old ones for so many years?!)


And here it talks about the new screen size, designed to fit with an average-sized thumb – some have argued that this one is a dig at Samsung who have been banging on about the big screen on their Galaxy S III in recent ads that take some well-aimed swipes at Apple fanboys (we wrote about them here).


This one talks about the panorama photography option


And this the new phone’s slimmer profile


There’s a truism in advertising that the worse the product is, the more overblown the advertising for it has to be. As one very famous creative director once explained to me, if the product has nothing to set it apart from its rivals or, worse, is just not very good, the only route to take is to establish some kind of emotional pull with consumers, or at least (in the case of Tango or Pot Noodle) make them laugh – plain logic is not going to work. Now that’s a very cynical view and one that is not borne out in all cases – Guinness, Honda, Levi’s all have good products with equally good advertising behind them. But it is interesting in the case of Apple that the better the products have become and the more successful the company, the simpler and more straightforward the ads.


This version of Think Different is narrated by Jobs himself. Two versions of the ad were made with Jobs only deciding to use the Richard Dreyfuss-narated version shortly before broadcast

For the launch of the Apple Mac in 1984, Apple famously went for the big blockbuster courtesy of Ridley Scott. And following Jobs’ return it restated its values via Think Different. But since then, the work that TBWAChiat Day has produced for the brand has been overwhelmingly based in simple product demonstrations. The furthest it has strayed from that path was perhaps the Mac vs PC or iPod Silhouette campaign but even the latter didn’t do much other than show the product and its distinctive colour.



The recent Genius campaign moved away from the simple demo approach, with decidedly mixed results (a sign perhaps of things going awry without Jobs’ involvement?)


Last week, D&AD announced that Apple was the most highly awarded brand in its history, but the overwhelming majority of those awards were for its product design, not its advertising. In design, simplicity is highly prized, in advertising, that’s not always so. Design juries have been happy to award successive generations of Apple products, even if the changes have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Post Think Different, Apple’s ads, although incredibly effective and distinctive (if occasionally smug) have seldom piqued the interest of advertising awards juries when it comes to the big prizes. In 2004, for example, the iPod Dance commercial only managed a Bronze at Cannes. The Mac vs PC campaign again only won Bronze in 2010. The likes of Unilever, Swatch and Mars have won Cannes’ Advertiser of the Year, never Apple. The most common reason I have heard advanced for this lack of recognition is that Apple’s ads often lack a ‘big idea’. And yet Apple’s advertising has played a crucial role in making it the biggest brand on the planet. Jobs recognised the importance of advertising to the brand, personally reviewing the latest campaigns every week. And yet the industry itself remains curiously underwhelmed.



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