Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A Sour Apple Note

Yesterday I got a call from the San Jose Mercury News, which if you
don't know, is the daily newspaper that serves the Silicon Valley.
While the paper does what almost every paper does regarding news,
weather and sports, the Mercury News devotes a considerable amount of
ink to high tech related stuff.

This is the week that reporters wanted to know about Apple's latest
"coup", signing on Bono and U2 to help them hawk Apple iPods. And of
course, everyone asked about it was quick to toady up to Steve Jobs
and kiss his golden keister. Well, almost everyone.

Although I'm sure that others will speak to it differently, I'm
willing to go on record and tell you that the current campaign is a
mistake in the long run. And I'm not just saying that because I find
Bono to be among the most obnoxious musical personalities since
Barbara Streisand. I can forgive the stupid eyewear and the inflated
sense of self-importance. I can even overlook the fact that, like
Streisand, he can't seem to get through a song without yelling. What
I can't forgive is how his presence demeans the Apple brand by
treating it as a fashion statement.

There's no question that the iPod has had a great halo effect on
Apple a a whole. A substantial portion of Apple's revenues are
derived from iPods. You know it's a runaway hit when the likes of
Hewlett-Packard license it for their own. But hand-cuffing an entire
brand to the leather belt loops of a musical celebrity is playing
with fire, for a bunch of reasons.

First, whenever your brand panders to fashion/trendies out there,
your brand itself is in danger of becoming a fashion statement. And
if you know anything about fashion, you know that what's in this year
is out the next. Or, in the immortal words of Jerry Reed, "when
you're hot, you're hot; when you're not, you're not." How long until
the iPod is junked for something trendier?

Second, while iPod's halo effect has brought in a significant number
of Mac converts, this move places way too much emphasis on music and
will probably hurt the overall brand as a productivity tool.

Look, I'm a Mac guy myself, but I've got to call 'em like I see 'em.
I've suffered the slings and arrows of all those other Gates-driven
PC cranks who continually sneer at the fact that I require no virus
protection programs. I suffer through their mockeries as they claim
"there's no software for the Mac" (there is - tons of it). Or that
Macs are too expensive (not true, especially if you add in how often
PC users have to add on to stuff built in to Macs). So the last
thing I need is for Steve Jobs to wheel out an aging, over-rated,
pony-tailed knucklehead wailing some anthem about how cool iPods are.

What Jobs has overlooked is that the Mac is already the cool of
computers. It always has been. Up until now, it's been cool
precisely because it's been able to outperform its competition where
it matters most: in computing. In fact, one could argue that by
over-emphasizing music, Apple is actually risking the perception that
its capabilities are becoming limited, when just the opposite is true.

Time will tell whether Bono will add any more value to the Apple
brand. Personally, I don't think it's quite the boon that all the
media lemmings think it is. As far as I'm concerned, there's only
one thing Apple could add to increase their sales now.

A pair of really sturdy ear plugs.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been a frankebiz reader for quite a few years and Rob's other work and free Monday gigs have been helpful.

I disagree with his slant on Apple and U2. I will probably now buy an iPod, even the more expensive U2 one because for me it is cool and I'm a die-hard U2 fan. I know there are better drive-mp3 players on the market. The 50 dollar savings on the box-set is the main driver now that downloading the albums will save me hours of ripping time. What is $100 worth when I can spend more time with my family instead of being in front of the darn computer?

Even though U2 is the biggest band in the world, not everyone likes them. But they are good and have legions of dedicated longtime fans like myself that otherwise may not have bought a poD otherwise.

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also disagree with Rob's thoughts on U2 selling iPods. I never cared to purchase one until I saw the commercial, which grabbed my attention immediately. I will also purchase the new U2 CD as well.

4:56 AM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Which pretty much proves my will have bought a U2 CD and an iPod, but you won't be buying a Mac computer or its peripherals. The job of the brand is to have you evangelize Macintosh as a computing platform, NOT to evangelize U2, or for that matter, the iPod as all there is to Macintosh. That's the short term issue that will affect Mac in the long run. Thanks for your post!

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Computers are tools and as such they vary greatly according to the intended use. Apple has always charged a premium price for its inteneded market: Style Freaks. Everytime I read an Apple bigot defending the Mac environment I chalk it up to insecurity and ignorance. No single platform addresses the needs of all users, and Apple in particular misses the mark in almost every category that matters.

Having owned every kind of computer since the days of the C/PM eagle I can safely say that in my 30 years of working with every operating system, chip, and device from PC to mainframe no one single platform has done more harm to its users than the Mac. Yet year after year the lemmings that buy this junk line up for the next fleecing as Steve pours up the Koolaid and this year will be no exception.

You don't like his marketing choices cuz you call yourself a brand expert. You make nasty remarks about the band U2. And you down talk the very technique that makes Apple work. Everyone who actually knows something about computers knows that Apple is a fashion statement. You don't buy Apple because you have a clue about how to use a computer, you buy it because your insecure about using a computer, and the Mac is really cool. Period. Show me a Mac user, and I instantly know I am dealing with a ego driven airhead.

Everytime I get a user on a support call and I find out that they are on a Mac I know two things instantly. Its going to be a long call, and were not going to be successful because almost every Mac user I know hasn't the most basic understanding of the electronic world in which they live.

How typical to hear another Mac user whining about Apple. Poor little puddy don't like Steve's style. Style is all Apple has going. Don't kid yourself that this platform is "better" than a PC. It's only better if your a clueless twit, and only use your computer for banging out pompous BS like your comments about Apple.

4:17 PM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

I love it when a malcontent pops off and then signs it "anonymous." That pretty much tells you everything you need to know....The most interesting part about this post is that is actually reinforces my statement about the strength of Apple's brand. Of course, part of having a successful brand is driving a stake into the ground and standing for something, rather than having no statement and pandering to everyone. Apple has always been a great brand in that regard; pissing off as many people as it pleases.

My column is about branding the Mac, not its viability as a computing platform. HOWEVER, I thank you for reinforcing my point: you, as an avid PC user, already perceive the Mac as a fashion statement, which further legitimizes my take on the mistake Jobs is making with this latest move. He's clearly sending the wrong message to people like yourself, and taking the Mac brand down with him. Thanks for posting!

4:35 PM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Markham, your post makes clear the effectiveness of a "halo" effect that the iPod has had, but it misses the mark in terms of branding. You need only look above at the PC user's post to see that for Apple's brand to continue to grow as a computing platform, it has to move 180 degrees away from the "cachet" and "fashion" strategy it seems to be embracing.

Apple already has all the cachet it needs. It has since the 1984 introduction, in which it set itself apart from the PC world. The disturbing part of your post is exactly what I've zeroed on: When you say, " as long as Apple can keep changing their advertising to keep the Ipod Cool and Hip, it will keep working," you're pinning Apple's brand on its executions and that's dangerous, because it means Apple builds more reliance on its endorsing bands than on its own merits.

You also say, "No offense Rob, but I think you're little out of touch on this one - you should think of this from the perspective of the 20 somethings who are the main buyers of Ipod......" I disagree. I never liked U2, but there are lots of successful things out there that I don't buy into. That's not the real issue. The main issue here is whether Apple is selling its brand out for the sake of an expedient tactic. Whether you find Bono obnoxious is a totally different argument (G).

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Rob...
Looks like you have a formatting issue on the main blog.
Perhaps 60 cpl would be a bit better???

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With respect to the observations being thrown around concerning Apple, Mac and iPod's at least the powers that be at Apple have learned one thing from reviewing history.

Licensing is one of the keys to longterm growth and overall market acceptance. Sony learned a costly lesson by keeping the reigns too tight on their BETA VCR technology, where VHS was willing to license it to a host of manufacturers until it, itself became the defacto market leader through use/market adoption; all this despite the fact that from a technical standpoint BETA was a superior product.

As far as Mac's are concerned, the Design world and the Education markets are the last bastien where Mac's reign surpreme. All other markets have adopted IBM PC's/Clones for the most part (Approx 90% of desktops).

Apple can enjoy the marginal revenues they earn from Mac sales exclusively since in comparison they don't really amount to all that much in the BIG scheme of things.

The iPod is a decent product, and given the bounce in earnings that Apple has enjoyed as a result of the iPods success and that of iTunes, it appears (at least from where I sit) that Apple's decision to license the iPod technolgy to the likes of HP, may signal that Apple's brass has learned a few things ... market adoption is the key to long term success. After all 100% of very little is well very little, whereas 30% of something much larger is, well MUCH MUCH LARGER!

Apple should continue their role as the trendsetter in the portable music platform segment while continuing to license their platform to anyone who is interested in incorporating it into their offerings.

Once they've got an incredible number of the iPod units deployed (millions) they can switch gears to developing applications and other software products geared to extending the usefulness of the product thus extending the product life cycle.

Just my view from here ...

Simon Rolfe, Senior Partner
Creative Genius Communications Inc.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Hard to argue many of the points you make there, Simon, although the world has learned (slowly, I'll admit) that for the most part, you can do anything on a Mac in the business world that you can do on a PC. That's the reason why Apple's "Switch" campaign has been so effective.

All that aside, however, the main focus of my piece deals with the wisdom of linking Apple's brand so heavily with music. As I mentioned above and as you point out, the Mac has always suffered from a perception of limitation. The way I see it, hooking up with Bono just adds fuel to that fire. Maybe that's what Apple wants, but I sure don't see it as good for the brand.

Apple and Mac are still about productivity, not fashion - despite what some PC users would have us believe. Thanks for posting Simon!

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Further to Apple's ambitious initiative to link the iPod brand with musical acts (in this particular instance U2) I think Apple's actions are nothing more than 'their way' of attempting to reinforce iPod's ties to 'Popular Music' in general.

While their strategy might not be sound, pardon the pun, they have been able to capture the headlines and garner a considerable amount of press as a by-product of the U2 announcement (likely million$ worth).

Having said that, how many iPods will they sell because of it (the U2 annoucement)? - Not that many in my humble opinion.

A wiser approach would be for Apple to continually make strides to effectively position the iPod as the World's leading fully digital, skip proof, portable music system. Doing so would virtually deliver Apple the portable, digital, music player space. And, as a secondary measure, Apple could then make use of musical acts as spokespeople to proclaim "I don't go anywhere without my iPod", while focusing on the overal portability of the product and the FUN components of the iPod's brand personality.

Now that would serve them far better!

Again, that's my view from here ...

Simon Rolfe, Senior Partner
Creative Genius Communications Inc.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Okay now I'm in agreement with most of what you're saying. As far as raising awareness of the Apple iPod brand, though, dose anyone in that market space NOT consider Apple iPod the leader in the field?

Cozying up to Bono might make some headlines, but in the end, it's just another celebrity endorsement -- and those alone can get very dangerous....think O.J. Simpson and Kobe Bryant....

I do appreciate your posts, Simon. Thank you.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

The U2 Promotion did seem to as much for the band as it did for Apple, but so what? How many people went to I-tunes that didn't even know what the heck it was, they just wanted to check out the song. The I-Pod/I-Tunes brand is building strongly, as evidenced by the fact that they were nearly impossible to find during the Christmas season (which coincidentally or not, followed the U2 promotion). Using celebrity endorsements may be risky, but Bono is probably one of the most straightlaced stars out there, and let's face it, the product is essentially a gadget to play rock and roll, so a little scandal isn't necessarily going to hurt the credibility of the gadget.

Right now I think the I-Pod brand name is one of the biggest in the country, and seems to have almost become a new Xerox or Kleenex, with people calling other MP3 players IPods.

WIth U2 being one of the most respected bands out there, and one of the few that has a listener base of 15 to 50, they seem like a great catch for Apple.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Frankel:

Why must you trash people products and companies in order to make your point?

Let me give you some advice about branding. You are forgetting about and doing damage to the brand that is most important to you - the brand called Rob Frankel.

You come off as bitter and negative man who's greatly pissed off at the fact that someone isn't a member of your church or political party. We are not interested in how you feel about Bono, U2 or so many other individuals that you needlessly bash. We were interested in your intellectual skills as they relate to branding. We now feel that you are far too self righteous to be able to express a balanced, thoughtful opinion.

I don't listen to U2 very often, but I will tell you that based on clarity of purpose, positive messaging and the value that has been delivered across the globe for so many causes, your brand sucks next to Bono's.

How does it taste?

Marc Romano

10:08 AM  

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