By Jimmy Guterman
Tuesday, November 11, 1997
Apple Computer is about to start doing something very
The company's decision to follow, in part, the Dell and
Gateway model and begin selling directly to customers is a
long-overdue move that may help the struggling vendor on
several fronts. It will continue and accelerate the
company's move to a more streamlined line of models, it
lessens its reliance on dealers and resellers, and it may even
force the company to focus on what its computers do,
rather than how they're supposed to make you feel.
Which brings us to Apple's current "think different"
advertising campaign, in which the images of icons such as
Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Bob Dylan and Pablo
Picasso are being manipulated as salesmen for the
company. This kind of image marketing is precisely what
the company shouldn't be doing.
Two Christmases ago, Apple ran its most memorable
commercials since its "1984" ad for the
then-groundbreaking Macintosh. The 1995 spots
emphasized the still strongest selling point of the Macintosh
over the PC: ease of use and configuration for computer
novices. In the ads, people were shown in the office, on
the road, under the Christmas tree trying to get new PCs or
PC software to run. (Windows 95 and Plug'n'Play have
partially alleviated this problem since, but the basic thrust
of the Macs-are-easier argument remains true.) The ads
were direct and effective in conveying the reason one
would choose a Macintosh over a PC, somewhat justifying
the usual Apple smugness.
The current campaign is a marketing mess. In addition to
being patently offensive-deceased spokespersons are so
much less opinionated about the use of their images-the
subliminal message, surely unintended by the company, is
that only those whose innovations have long since been
recognized use Macs. Didn't Apple's agency take note of
the negative reaction the Coca Cola Company received for
its Diet Coke spot in which vacuous '90s personalities
interact with a digitized Louis Armstrong?
The question remains: what is Apple selling in these ads? It
can't be computers, because we none are present in the
television, print or billboard ads. It can't be solving
everyday business problems, because the problems with
which cultural icons such as Ghandi and Picasso wrestled
are not of that ilk. Why should Apple market their products
to corporate mavericks who want to be like Dylan or
Einstein? They already own that market. It's the people
who want to be like Peter Lynch or Bill Gates-a much
larger and lucrative market-that has been resistant to Macs
in the past. This expensive campaign (originally offered by
the agency to IBM, by the way) won't change that.
In these ads, Apple is selling a feeling, a feeling that
buying a Macintosh will make you believe you're one with
Einstein and Gandhi, make you feel good about yourself.
But hardly anyone will spend $5,000 on a computer
because it makes them feel good.
With the direct-sales move, Apple has figured out a better
way to sell their wares. Now all they have to do is figure
out what they're selling. Wouldn't that be thinking
You only get pronounced two things in life, man and wife, and dead on arrival. Dennis Miller
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