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Another rare miss for Apple

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) is famous for many things, one of them being its bold, memorable, and unique ad campaigns.

The famous 1984 Mac commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, has frequently been touted as one of the best commercials ever aired, representing how the Mac stood out in a world of commoditised IBM (NYSE: IBM) PC clones running Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows at the time. Apple then followed up with its iconic “Think Different” campaign, tugging at our heartstrings while reminding us of some of the greatest triumphs in human history.

Next, the popular “I’m a PC/I’m a Mac” campaign was accessible to the average user, driving home the notion that Apple products are easier to use and adding a touch of humour with actors John Hodgman and Justin Long. These commercials even provoked a response from Microsoft, which released its own set of “I’m a PC” commercials showing a variety of Windows users in a positive light.

Apple also likes to use a product-as-hero strategy, focusing ads entirely on the product alone and letting it sell itself, as in recent ads for the MacBook Pro with Retina display or the new iPad.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Inspiration Room, Plus Creativity, Apple.

And then there was this guy: a bubbly Apple “Genius” who appears in ads entitled “Mayday,” “Labor Day,” and “Basically.”

Somehow, after decades of home-run ad campaigns, Apple struck out badly with this set of commercials that aired during the opening of the Olympics. It’s worth noting that Apple has also recently and uncharacteristically turned to celebrity spots with a series of commercials featuring celebs using its personal assistant, Siri. Those were simply boring, though; they don’t make you involuntarily cringe like the “Genius” ads shown above.

The wrong message
The “Genius” ads portray Mac users as bungling and incompetent, struggling with computers that are supposed to be intuitive and user-friendly. They also make use of uninspired humour that falls flat. Say what you will about the nauseating “Rock God” spot, but at least that was just one bad ad — not an entire series of them.

Even Ken Segall, an ad exec who worked with Apple and Steve Jobs for more than a decade, said the ads are “causing a widespread gagging response, and deservedly so.” Segall contributed to naming the original iMac and recently released a book, Insanely Simple, detailing Apple’s obsession with simplicity, so he knows the company pretty well. He added, “I honestly can’t remember a single Apple campaign that’s been received so poorly.” Another former Apple exec, Jean-Louis Gassee, similarly called them “cringe-inducing.”

The widely panned ads have now been pulled, with Apple’s ad agency, TBWA/Media/Arts Lab, saying that the trio was always intended as just a “first run” weekend campaign for the Olympics. Thankfully, there won’t be an entire series of “Genius” commercials, which would inevitably go down as one of Apple’s worst ad campaigns.

Whether or not the series was truly intended for such a limited run is up for debate, especially since each of the three ads built upon the same branded Genius character. One thing is certain, though: For Apple and TV viewers alike, it’s good riddance to bad rubbish.

Google “out-Appled” Apple
In contrast, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) recently began airing the first commercials for its new Nexus 7 tablet. The first, which involves a father-son camping trip in the backyard (within range of their home’s WiFi network, which the tablet relies on for connectivity), has enjoyed a warm reception.

According to Ace Metrix, a television analytics company that evaluates video advertising, Google’s “Camping” ad is far more effective than Apple’s “Genius” ones, ranking higher in the researcher’s scoring system. Ace Metrix exec Jonathan Symonds said, “Google has taken their strong emotional appeal and married that with strong product demonstration.” Interestingly, these are strategies that Apple typically employs in its successful ads, so you could argue that Google just made a better Apple ad than Apple did.

Can’t win ’em all
Even Apple is bound to miss every now and then (like in last year’s fourth quarter or the most recent third). Ad campaigns play an important role in shaping consumer perception, and the last thing Apple should want is to make iPhoto seem like it’s hard to use. Back to the drawing board.

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A version of this article, written by Evan Niu, originally appeared on

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