Twitter lit up with a flurry of negative comments regarding Apple’s new TV commercials which aired during the Olympic Opening Ceremony on NBC. Apple’s television commercials are legendary. In recent years, most of their commercials have been focused entirely on the products themselves. Apple users generally have found these commercials to be favorable, as they highlight the sophistication, design, and innovation that we all love. These new commercials feature a twenty-something Apple Genius coming to the rescue of a middle-aged novice Mac user. They represent a radical departure from anything that Apple has ever done, and the Apple loyalists were overwhelmingly unimpressed.
I found them to be brilliant.
If you are a Mac user, they don’t need to tell you what a fantastic product it is. You have at least one, and you love it. You know all about the Mac, its features, benefits, and software. There is absolutely no reason that Apple needs to spend money to make commercials for the purpose of making you feel good about a purchase that you have already made. In its simplest essence, these commercials are made to target the people who don’t already own a Mac. Apple is looking to gain new users, not just to get existing users to spring for an upgrade because they rolled out some new features.
Examination of a Premise
The new commercials are brilliant on many levels. They manage to quickly and simply convey some fairly heavy concepts in a light and interesting manner. It doesn’t take a Genius to figure out the demographics of the target audience: Middle to upper income middle-aged adults. Just look at the commercials. Who are the people who are receiving help from the Genius? That’s right, middle to upper income, middle-aged adults. But why would they target that group? The answer is simple. They can easily afford to buy a Mac, and the vast majority of them are not currently Mac users. Apple is smart to want to convert them.
Good salesmanship, in many ways, hinges on a few key factors such as the ability to gain trust, be likable, communicate benefits, and overcome objections. These commercials do all of these things in the context of the target demographic. They seek to gain the trust of targeted consumers by putting the Genius on a pedestal. In the commercials he’s smart, experienced, helpful, likable, and always willing to help the technologically illiterate without talking down to them or making them feel foolish. When the middle-aged technologically illiterate person who has seen these commercials eventually walks into an Apple store and meets a twenty-something year old Genius in the now familiar blue shirt and name badge, they will be more likely to be interested in talking, and asking for help. Also, when that Genius recommends a certain product (read product as Apple Care;) the customer may be more likely to take the advice, because after all, this guy IS a Genius. Let’s also not forget that in one of the commercials, the Genius sows seeds of distrust against typical computer sales people. It implies that non-Genius sales people don’t really know what they are talking about, and will say anything to get you to buy that imitation Mac (Ultrabook, anyone?).
These commercials succeed at communicating benefits to users. Steve Jobs said a long time ago that what regular people really want to with their computers are things like making a video of their kids, or (at the time) burning a CD. In one commercial, a man on an airplane is trying to quickly make a video. In another, a man is trying to make a card to share a photo of his newborn child. The message to the target audience is that a Mac will help you quickly and easily do the things that you want to do, and if you can’t figure it out, we’re here to help you out, and we’ll never act like you are stupid for needing help. This is an attempt to court people who either don’t know how to use a computer or are afraid to abandon the familiarity of the PC that they reluctantly got accustomed to using at work in favor of a Mac.
A number of people on Twitter have voiced the concern that, “These commercials make Mac users look like idiots who can’t use a computer!”. No no no. You’ve got it all wrong. It’s a metaphor. YOU are the Genius on the airplane. YOU are the Genius on the street who steers somebody away from an imitation Mac. YOU, Mr. Smart Mac User, are the Genius that gets woken up in the middle of the night by a friend on his way to the hospital for the birth of his child. Apple is saying that in addition to the help that you will find in an Apple store, there are scads of Mac users that really know what they are doing, and are willing to help.
Lighten up guys, and think it through. The commercials are extremely well thought out, and the Mac loyalists seem to be missing the point. Apple is not slipping, and Phil Schiller is still a marketing legend at the top of his game.
Be the Genius.