Apple's Olympic Ads

That Awkward Feeling

Have you ever had to tell your wife that “Yes, in fact that outfit does look horrendous.”?

That’s how I’ve felt the last few days, and I do not mean to say my wife needs a new wardrobe.

Oddly, we’re one of the 3.3%* of Americans without a television. (Actually, we have one, but it’s in the unfinished basement doing nothing.) There are certain times that we are frustrated by that fact, but in general, life has been fine thanks to Hulu, Netflix and iTunes. It used to be that sports and news were our concern. With Twitter and various other online or app venues, news has been pretty much forgotten about when we relive our concerns. Sports on the other hand is one thing that we both miss. I miss my pathetic Twins, and she misses the Olympics.

This year, during the opening ceremonies broadcast (pushed to prime time by NBC, which should get its own post, but I digress), I was at home working on a project, while Mary was doing a photoshoot for a friend. The television was on in the background for her, and I of course, had my Twitter stream up.

I’m not sure whether I was the chicken or the egg, but I started to see some interesting things pop up in my Twitter stream, and my wife recalls her confusion as well.

Let’s step back a moment. For those who don’t know me, I’m what you call a “fanboy.”  Look at my résumé and you’ll see that I dedicated just shy of seven years of my professional career to working for Apple. Why? Because it’s Apple. You can’t resist the allure of working for a brand that you so admire. While there, I met some of the smartest people, and best teams ever. (Unrelated to this post, go read Forbes: .) While with Apple, I spent a good chunk of my time focusing on visual merchandising of the stores – making sure that they all looked, felt, and spewed the Apple brand. Not an easy task when you have thousands of people walking in and out on a daily basis. We got what it was to be the brand, and we knew the importance of protecting it.

So during the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics and Apple spent a few million on air time, I was a wee bit confused. Not necessarily at the fact that they bought the time, but the reactions that were surfacing across the web.

Me not having a TV, I relied on Twitter for an explanation of what was going on. The first Tweet that really got my attention came from another former Apple employee who now works for one of the best ad agencies in town:



From there, the conversation continued, and I found an online recording of the commercials. (Now available from Apple at: )

Well that was interesting.

Another former Apple employee joined in our Twitter conversation and pointed out that they seem more like Best Buy commercials than Apple. Spot on comment in my opinion.

Now that it has been a few days, the internet has spoken up, and the majority of folks think that they missed the mark – with a few specific exceptions.

To me, this points out a few very important things.

1. People actually pay attention to Apple’s advertising. What I mean is that if it truly were a Best Buy commercial, no one would have said anything or cared. It would just be normal for that situation. Apple just has a history with the ad world. It not only provides the tools for most of the ad world to survive on, but also provides great and inspirational ads. 1984 changed the Super Bowl. Think Different brought emotion to a box of plastic and metal. Silhouettes on billboards made us want to dance. Justin Long and John Hodgman had characters that made points worth listening to.

2. The category of people who thought they were cute, or good, were (in my audience at least) current Apple employees. There’s nothing wrong with this. They were fine ads – they weren’t horrible, they were questionable, and seemed un-Apple. But their defendants where those who are still drinking the Kool-Aid, as we say. Ironically, they also were first to point out how incorrect the ads were. The character shouldn’t necessarily have been a Genius – a Creative would be a better choice, or potentially a Specialist. But they made a concession and chose to go with the most widely known in the cast of Apple retail characters.

And that’s what I saw. Concessions being made. So here is where I tell my wife she’s got some ugly clothes on.  Apple fights the status quo in everything it does. In products, in retail, in culture. The same has held true for advertising. It seems as the times have changed lately, and not just in relation to this batch, either. If you look at their most recent iPhone commercials, you’ll see big celebrities being big celebrities. That hasn’t happened in the past. We didn’t need proof that the products were cool since Sam Jackson was using them. They were cool because they were cool. Apple had it’s own street cred and didn’t need anyone else to hold it’s hand.

Don’t get me wrong though. I have complete faith in Apple. But, I struggle with who at their roster of ad agencies came up with (and will admit) to this campaign.

Go ahead and rip me apart in the comments – I can take it.

****Update: Check out Ken Segall’s take. If you don’t know Ken, you know his work. From the Apple campaigns prior to this one….: ****

*Stat from Nielsen report in March of 2011 stating that 96.7% of households have a television, which actually dropped since their last survey where 98.9% had one.

2 thoughts on “That Awkward Feeling”

  1. Wow. As someone who doesn’t watch much TV either, I wasn’t aware of these ads, but agree they’re pretty surprising. It’s completely different than the game changing commercials Apple prided themselves on in the past. They were always doing something totally different, which is why they garnered the attention they did. You’re right though, it goes with the status quo of adding celebrities to the mix on the iPhone. I’d say it’s probably time for a new ad agency, but maybe they’re mainstreaming themselves instead of trying to stand out as a special club. It kinda seems like bringing down the bar is almost saying anyone can have an Apple, it’s not “special” or for the “kool-aid” drinkers only, which is a curious idea in itself. 
    As a former Apple employee I also thought it was really curious the way they portrayed the 24/7 employee too. I have family who’d love to use that as a “joke” and say,  “The commercial shows you’d give advice any time!” While the people at Apple are by far the most passionate and helpful people that you can find, I still found it hard to move past that part of the commercial. Even no longer working for the company, “I’m an Apple Genius!” doesn’t mean I want to be onstage 24/7. 
    I think the products will still speak for themselves. Even in bad advertising, you still can’t argue with what’s brought to the table. I switched 6 years ago. I now have to use a PC for work, but at home I could never go back. My phone is almost a part of my hand, a scary but true necessity in my life. My computer is a warm and comfortable friend. It just works, and I think that’s Apple’s longstanding message rather they realize it or not.
    Maybe this is their mid-life crisis years. I think they’ve built relationships that can with stand a few flashy red sports cars and out of their age range bar crawls though. Or maybe that’s my kool-aid speaking… but I have to keep faith.

  2. i cringed at the implications the commercial would lead to… apple help doing the job off the clock…  outside of work… 
    but yet, it still felt apple to me.  it was clearly a new direction in mac ads, pushing more of the service and benefit that the store brings.  an expansion of the hodgeman/long ad featuring a ‘genius’… and rather than putting it a store, they put it in odd places… altho the ad closes w/ a  Mac tag vs a  Store line so who knows… i do hope they don’t last long, and we see another set of ads.  

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