Advertising during the Olympics’ opening ceremony is a surefire way to have your brand seen by millions of people. Unfortunately for Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), this exposure might not necessarily be a good thing, after releasing three commercials which sparked headlines like Tech Hunter’s “Apple’s ‘Genius’ Olympic Ads Annoy ‘Everyone’” and inspired Sean Hollister of The Verge to declare that the ads’ “unifying theme” was “stupidity.”
The detested advertisements, centered around the Apple Store’s “Genius Bar,” feature a fresh-faced employee offering advice to Apple customers in a variety of unusual situations. In the first ad, “Mayday,” he’s summoned to the side of a fellow passenger on a plane to help the man make a video for his anniversary. In the second spot, “Labor Day,” the Genius is awoken from his slumber by a man who wants to make cards announcing the imminent birth of his child. Meanwhile, “Basically,” the third ad, stars a man who brags about his purchase of Mac-like computer, only to have the Genius chide him that only a Mac is a Mac — perhaps a dig at Intel-powered (NASDAQ:INTC) Ultrabooks.
So why the backlash against the campaign? Criticism from around the web tends to make five key points:
- The ads are insulting to Apple users. Describing the depictions of customers in the ads as “fairly silly,” Mike Flacy of Digital Trends complains that “two of the advertisements aren’t very flattering of Mac owners and make them too inept to figure out simple programs like iPhoto or iMovie.”
- The new Apple spokesperson is too smug. The same criticism was lobbed at Justin Long’s character in the days of “I’m a Mac,” but the Boy Genius takes things to a whole new level. “Ads feature an Apple ‘Genius’ employee complete with blue T-shirt and smug demeanor helping out various dim-witted Mac users complete the most complicated of tasks like dragging and dropping files and opening iMovie,” snarks Andy Cooke of PluggedIn, noting the unflattering contrast Apple draws between the expert and the everyman.
- The expectant father needs to get his life in order. Apple’s attempt at humor in having a soon-to-be daddy on the way to the hospital making a pit stop for technical support was met by incredulity from most viewers. Matthew Panzarino of The Next Web lambasted “Labor Day,” saying, “The whole setup feels stupid on the most basic human levels. Note that the man is already a Mac owner, like the one above, and his priorities are clearly screwed up.”
- The ads make Apple products seem too hard to use. What should be a comforting message (“Help is always there if you need it”) comes off as something of a warning (“You’re gonna need a ton of help”). Joe Svetlik of CNET points out that the ads “undermine one of the main selling points of a Mac — that it’s a complete doddle to use. The programs are supposed to be so simple you don’t need someone, or a 700-page guide, to tell you how to use it. You just pick it up and get started.”
- The products Apple should be selling aren’t even in the ads. Speaking of those Apple products, with the exception of the man’s computer in “Mayday,” they are utterly absent from these commercials — generally not a smart move in the world of advertising. As noted by Martin Hoscik on Seen It, “The campaign differs from Apple’s usual approach of focusing ads on a single product or feature, such as the iPhone 4S voice assistant, Siri. Unless of course Apple is seeking to position its after-sales service as a product in its own right?
Yet despite how it might seem, the ad campaign is not universally scorned. In fact, there are those who claim that its detractors are missing the point. As Henry Blodget reminds us in his defense of the ads, “Although many tech snobs forget this, mainstream consumers actually don’t give a crap about technology. What mainstream consumers care about is what they can do with technology. And these new ads are all about that.”
Indeed, much of the vitriol is coming from current Mac users, while the campaign is apparently aimed at enticing PC users to switch over. And while the immediate response to the ads was clear, the success of Apple’s long-term mission is yet to be seen.
You can watch all three commercials here.
– Ryan Hauck, InvestorPlace