Branding brilliance from Apple

Apple_logo Sometimes, the right choice for the corporation is the wrong choice for the brand.

Take, for instance, Apple’s decision to install Intel chips in the Mac.  There are, clearly, good technical reasons for this move.  But the potential branding consequences…yikes!

The Apple-PC contest breaks along one of the ideological fault lines in our culture.  It pits creativity against productivity, individuals against corporations, imagination against pragmatism. 

Jobs had paid hugely for this position.  Apple became the right machine for the design department, and the wrong machine for the rest of the corporation.   Expensive.  Heroic.  Brand building.

And now at risk.  Putting an Intel chip in an Apple machine, isn’t that like embracing the enemy?  The Mac now had a stow away, an alien on board.  What if, late at night, as we slept, the spirit of the PC slipped out of the chip into the soul of the Mac?  What if the brain of the machine changed the soul of the machine?  What if Mac lost its Macness, and the magnificient brand equity for which Jobs had paid so dearly? 

Well, if you are Apple, you do the right thing.  You confront the problem head on with a little anticipatory meaning management.  Hence the ad that’s been playing this week. 

We are in a clean room.  Technicians are handling a piece of hardware ever so delicately. 

The voice-over (Keiffer Sutherland):

The Intel chip
for years, its been trapped inside PCs
inside dull little boxes
dutifully performing dull little tasks
when it could have been doing
so
much
more
starting today the Intel chip will be set free
and get to live life
inside a Mac.
Imagine the possibilities

This neatly changes the polarity of the event.  It’s not Intel that will change Mac, but Mac that will change Intel.  In fact, the Mac is liberating the Intel chip from its PC captivity.  Indeed, Mac will do for the Intel what it does for those who use a Mac: make both more creative, interesting, engaged.  Beauty!

One particular word of praise: the lab technician who handles the chip in transition is perfectly cast and brilliantly directed.  Her face captures the gravity and the mischief of the event.  Her tiny smile of triumph forms our reaction, by suggesting it, inviting it, proposing it only.  Nice. 

And particular word of criticism: why choose Keiffer Sutherland as the voice over?  To be sure, it is a great voice, combining useful warmth and urgency.  But Sutherland is mostly shaped in the public mind by the show 24, in which he plays a man trapped in a machine he cannot understand.  Is this not precisely the image of the Intel chip we wish to avoid and that the ad struggles to f inesse?

The ad comes from TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles.  It can’t say that I was impressed with this agency when I worked with them for the Coca-Cola Company.  But they are on a tear at the moment.  The Los Angeles office is responsible for the "why" spot for Jimmy Dean.  (A man in a sun suit solemnly tells his daughter that his job is to light and heat the earth.  She responds by wrinkling her nose in the world’s most delicate performance of devoted dubiety ever caught on film.)  The New York office of TBWA\Chiat\Day is responsible for the Nextel "Dance Party" ad, which is very close to a thing of genuis.

It is sometimes the marketer’s job is to build the brand.  Sometimes, it’s our job to remove the brand from harm’s way.  Hat’s off to Apple and TBWA\Chiat\Day for an amazing piece of anticipatory meaning management. 

References

The Mac-Intel-Apple ad, here

The Nextel ad, here.

For more on the agency, here

10 thoughts on “Branding brilliance from Apple

  1. Charles

    Interesting… one of the first blog posts I have read to mention the ad without bringing up that it is a little too close to The Postal Service video for “Such Great Heights”… and that it was shot by the same folks…
    It may be wonderful brand positioning in all of the ways that you suggest, but to so many people who see it now, (especially with some fairly popular music artists so enraged by this), the only lasting brand position is that Apple has stopped caring about the rights of creators right as they moved to Intel chips… not quite enough to make me want to switch to Windows, but it hurts to see Apple doing this. Anyone having any luck designing on Linux?

  2. Grant

    Charles, good point, it’s never a good idea to be seen to be pushing around one of the creators about whom you claim to care. On the other hand, I assume this is the agency behaving badly, not the brand, and this could spell the end of the relationship between TBWA\Chiat\Day and Apple. The latter really would have grounds for switching. (I can’t think what the agency was thinking. And to put the entire account at risk for this economy…that really would be nuts.) Thanks, Grant

  3. aj

    I don’t watch 24, so I associate Kiefer Sutherland’s voice with Ford ads (the same way his father Donald voices the ads for Volvo, partly owned by Ford).

    There is one other interesting things about this spot: it’s the first Apple desktop commercial that isn’t signed “Apple” but “Mac,” much in the same way the iPod ads are done.

    It seems that Apple wants to push the “Mac-ness” of their computers over the particular chip or hardware platform it’s running. The new Intel laptop is not a PowerBook – a word so culturally ingrained that it is almost generic – but a “MacBook”. In Apple’s newly restated worldview, it isn’t the chip that makes a computer a dull PC or an “exciting” Mac; it’s the operating system.

  4. Charles

    Wasn’t the “Power” in PowerBook from “Power”PC chips… I’m guessing that may have prompted the change FROM PowerBook… but I think AJ might be on target with the change TO MacBook. Perhaps Apple sees where things are going – as the specs on hardware become a non-issue, and design (both product and UI) is all that is left, Apple needs to work harder at promotion… and why not learn from what worked with the iPod?

    Grant – re: Postal Service – certainly the agency is to blame, but I don’t think Apple, as a client, can completely dodge the bullet. When you hire the agency, issue the brief, and approve the creative, you have to accept at least some of the blame. Let’s pretend, though, that Apple was genuinely unaware of what was happening. (which, actually, is a good possibility — with the super-secret nature of all of the MacWorld events, apparently few people saw the final ad prior to showing… in the past, I have heard that Steve is actually making final decisions on ads only days before MacWorld) Apple took some heat over the Eminem/Lugz commercial, but I think people generally gave them the benefit of the doubt. Twice, though, and it is a little harder to look past.

  5. Eric

    As AJ pointed out, fanatical Mac users love the hardware AND the Mac OS, to differentiate those boxes from WinTel machines.

    In my mind, Motorola’s production of the motherboard processor, wasn’t harmed a bit by Apple’s early collaboration with IBM. In fact, the modern Mac has much to owe to this partnership, specifically, the entire idea of the PowerPC (which was originally intended to cross between the Mac and PC worlds).

    Apple’s recent collaboration with Intel doesn’t really give me pause. When I fight with my brothers over who’s machine is better (me on the Mac side, they on the WinTel side), we rarely fight about the processor. Rather, the superiority battle always seems to be about which machine is better suited to the business user.

    The introduction of the Intel chip doesn’t immediately pose a threat to the Mac way of life (or business).

    I’m more concerned that the lovable Apple icon on the start up screen will turn into a Princess Castle, with Tinkerbell flying gleefully overhead…

  6. David Sucher

    I don’t see that the Intel chip will effect the Apple brand one way or the other. The Mac is superior because of its software and if the Apple people think that the Intel chip is the best chip, I am willing to go along until the facts prove otherwise.

    The ability to (perhaps) use Windows software (such as Google Earth) on a Mac is a huge plus.

  7. Matt

    If it runs OSX and has a non-counterfeit Apple logo on it, it’s still a Mac. If it runs Windoze it’s a PC. And if it runs any non-OSX unix (such as Linux), it’s a workstation.

    The definition of “PC” used to be set by IBM. Now it’s set by Microsoft. It never has been and never will be a creature of Intel. (As evidenced by the fact that many PCs don’t have a speck of Intel in them anywhere, since they run AMD processors.) And so slapping an Intel chip in something doesn’t make it a PC.

    Mac lovers will still continue to buy Apple’s massively overpriced hardware in order to get the pleasure of running the best end-user operating system ever designed. I suspect very few will really care who makes the CPU, once the change stops being news.

    (And no, BTW…”PowerBook” is not named after the chip. Mac laptops were called “PowerBooks” long before the PowerPC chips. The very first laptop I actually used for an extended period was a 68000-based PowerBook that I rented in order to stay online while I was in the hospital after surgery. IIRC I was 14 at the time. But I know it was a PowerBook 100.)

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