Apple's iPhone ads. Huh?

Posted by: Helen Walters on August 26, 2008

“Twice as fast. Half the price,” proclaims a shiny placard in the doorway of my local Apple store. TV ads merrily send out the same message. Now as the owner of an iPhone 1.0, I was prepared for the fact that the new phones made me, in tech terms at least, obsolete. And that’s ok. In this day and age, that’s unavoidable. But ads that essentially tell early adopters that they should have held out for the newer version — “twice as fast!” — “half the price!” — seem both disrespectful and counter to received branding wisdom. Sure, tout the new qualities of the new phone. Talk up its speed and connectivity and apps and affordability. But by comparing and contrasting unfavorably with what it launched before, Apple elbows its core supporters in the ribs as it attempts to draw in new customers. We regularly talk about the need for companies to be transparent in their communications with their consumers, but this feels like a low blow from a corporation that knows better.

Reader Comments

steve baker

August 27, 2008 8:38 AM

Not only that, but the full cost, including the subscription, is higher. If Apple cut the handset price by a nickel and doubled the subscription price, would it be even cheaper?

Helen

August 27, 2008 4:38 PM

Steve, so true! It's a really strange strategy. I also read this morning of an iPhone ad being banned by the ASA, the UK's advertising watchdog, for misleading consumers. According to the Guardian, the ad demonstrates the internet prowess of the iPhone with the tagline "all the parts of the Internet are on the iPhone." Complaints that actually, all parts of the Internet are not on the iPhone, as it doesn't support Flash or Java, were upheld.

Ironically enough, I read this on my iPhone, and was therefore unable to view the Flash video of the offending ad that was embedded in the story.

James McClure

August 27, 2008 5:08 PM

I have a computer, a camera and many other tech items that are all twice as slow and twice the price of the latest ones. That's the nature of this market!

Helen

August 27, 2008 5:20 PM

James -- as I said in the post, I quite agree. It's not the reality of evolving, improving technology that I'm objecting to, it's the rather insensitive advertising message. It's not all-embracing, it's an alienating smack in the older owners' faces. Don't you think?
Helen

Adam

September 1, 2008 10:10 PM

Helen:

It's not up to James to agree or not. It's a question for the market to answer. Typically, early adopters understand that they get bragging rights for jumping in early but they pay for them in the future with the abiding humiliation of obsolescence. Or they buy the new model.

So when you buy a new phone, will you buy an iPhone? (Assume that it is as good relative to the alternatives as it was when you purchased your first one.) If yes, then you have accepted the perceived slight and Apple is in the clear.

With respect to your point regarding branding wisdom, I cannot agree. It depends on the essence of the brand. If the essence is one of rapid innovation, continual improvement and delighting the customer with products, then I don't really see a problem with the ad. If the essence is one of stability and relationship then I would agree.

Non-ascetics are always going to have pangs of envy or regret when they find themselves owning yesterday's model. That is a condition of human psychology not a flaw in Apple's advertising. I think you need to ask yourself whether you really take issue with the ad or whether you're just annoyed that your cool iPhone just got less cool.

Helen

September 2, 2008 5:49 PM

Adam: Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I honestly don't think that flouting improvements in the face of early adopters is ever smart, even if those consumers implicitly understand the nature of their relationship with a brand. I knew from the outset that Apple would update and leave me behind (I knew I wouldn't be ready to update my phone by the time the new one was released) and yet I responded unfavorably to the ad. Maybe I'm deluding myself about my reaction, but I believe that the ad's makers could have done something that would perfectly emphasize the improvements and the cool factor of the new phone in a way that didn't slight owners of the old.

And of course you're right, if I buy an iPhone again next time, Apple's in the clear. But being "in the clear" is surely not good enough in this day and age. Too many scrapes into the clear and it'll be game over, with all good will lost. Those consumers are the hardest of all to win back. And in the current climate, no brand can afford to squander customers.

Adam

September 8, 2008 9:42 PM

Helen:

Great response! In the end, this is an empirical question though I'm not sure at this moment how I would choose to measure it.

But I will make two points:

1) You did not really respond unfavorably to the ad. Arguably, you did not respond at all since you are not in the market for a cellphone. Your response will happen next time you buy and what happens between now and then is irrelevant. I am, of course, overstating the case here especially since you are a blogger with the heft of Business Week behind you. But I still think there's an important point here.
2) Pain is an integral part of love. Arguably, there is no love without pain. And I don't mean the pain when you lose love permanently. I mean that pain is woven into the fabric of love itself. Anytime you feel such a strong love for something, you are guaranteed to experience pain because that love will not be expressed back at you constantly in its most perfect state. In order to fully appreciate the love at its best, you must experience the moments of pain that accompany lower expressions of that love. The same might be said of the need to feel hunger in order to fully appreciate good food... I wonder if brands operate the same way. That in order to fully love a brand, you must experience occasional pain delivered by that brand. Good relationships cannot be constant bliss. The sameness of it all would drain the relationship of its potency.

OK, that was a bit esoteric but, perhaps, worth considering.

Thanks for your post. You've sparked a good conversation and that's what it's all about.

Adam

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