Apple Launches Siri Ad Campaign Featuring Dwayne Johnson (Jul 24, 2017)
Yesterday, actor Dwayne Johnson (also known as The Rock) tweeted a tongue-in-cheek teaser for an ad campaign with Apple centered on Siri, with a three-minute ad posted to YouTube later. The ad campaign is only one of the things to talk about here, though, because the reaction to the teaser is worth discussing too. The campaign itself comes at an interesting time for Siri, given the massive media attention paid recently to the much smaller but arguably hotter home voice speaker market and the dominant assistant in that space, Amazon’s Alexa. Note that the Siri campaign is all about Johnson going around getting stuff done, and that of course is the major weakness of Alexa today: it’s basically useless away from home. There’s no direct jab here from Apple, but it’s clearly one of the underlying messages that Siri is with you throughout your day no matter where you are (albeit not, as the ad suggests, in space). But the other thing worth noting is how many people reacted to the teaser by taking it literally, or in other words believing that Apple was actually making a full-on movie featuring Siri and Johnson. That’s so absurd as to be laughable, but I’m pretty sure it’s the context of Apple’s recent push into original content and the negative response in much of the media to its Planet of the Apps show that makes it suddenly seem plausible. Once Apple starts spending serious money on content, and demonstrates that it’s willing to make shows featuring its own products and services prominently, almost anything seems possible. At this point, releasing Planet of the Apps first feels like it was a big mistake in launching Apple’s original content strategy – it’s set the tone for what’s to come, and though future offerings will hopefully be more compelling to a wider range of Apple customers, the reaction to this Siri campaign is a great encapsulation of the expectations Apple has now set. It’s got work to do.
Facebook has today announced a new mission statement at its event for managers of Groups on the platform. The old mission statement was “Making the world more open and connected” and the new one is longer and more specific: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” What’s clear from the way Mark Zuckerberg talks about the change is that he had previously supposed that merely getting people connected and online would be enough to be a force for good in the world, which demonstrates the kind of naïveté about the impact of technology that’s common to many tech companies. The reality is that technology and the Internet in particular are merely tools, which can be used for both good or ill, and it feels like more and more companies in the industry are finally starting to understand this and talk about it. In Facebook’s case, which in reality is Mark Zuckerberg’s case personally, the tipping point appears to have been last year’s US presidential election, in which he first denied that Facebook played any kind of negative role but has now conceded that its effect certainly wasn’t neutral. But we’re also seeing some of this recently from Microsoft, with Satya Nadella again the CEO-standard bearer for being a force for good in the world, with his main focus on AI, as a counterpart to Zuckerberg’s new mantra of community. But Tim Cook at Apple has also been determined to use his company’s resources to effect social and environmental change to a far greater extent than Steve Jobs, and others seem to be drifting in this direction too. That’s a good thing, especially when those leaders are wise enough and not too self-absorbed to see that to the extent that their companies can be part of the problem, they can’t be the entirety of the solution. That’s a bridge Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t yet seem to have crossed, something I first noted in the context of his manifesto from earlier this year, given that he still seems to feel Facebook is the solution to the problem Facebook causes or negative things it enables. As such, his goal to have a billion people be members of what he terms meaningful groups is a goal entirely centered on Facebook and Groups with a capital G. Regardless of whether those people are already members of meaningful groups such as neighborhoods, churches, service organizations, families, or others in real life, the only thing Zuckerberg wants to measure is how that activity is reflected on Facebook itself. As such, though Zuckerberg definitely seems to be evolving and maturing in his views on the impact of technology in general and Facebook in particular, he still has some way to go.
Twitter Launches #SeeEverySide Marketing Campaign (Jun 19, 2017)
This comparison leaked earlier in the week but Tesla has now made it official by posting it on its website (and Elon Musk pointed to it in a Tweet overnight). The only reason I’m including it is here is that it’s a great illustration of the hole Musk dug for himself with his puerile naming strategy for the Model 3 (he originally intended to name it the Model E, making the three current models the S, E, and X, but Ford objected so he flipped the E to a 3). That strategy has led many people to believe the Model 3 is the third iteration of the Tesla and therefore better than the other two models on offer, something Musk has been somewhat frustratedly trying to rectify for the last few months. This comparison, therefore, which is coming out months if not years ahead of the actual availability of the Model 3 to new buyers, seems almost entirely designed to clarify that confusion. Even the introduction makes the point Musk has been hammering home via Twitter recently: “Although it will be our newest vehicle, Model 3 is not “Version 3” or the most advanced Tesla”. All the specific side by side comparisons make clear that the Model 3 is indeed substantially inferior to the Model S – slower acceleration, shorter range, paid versus free supercharging, smaller passenger and cargo space, and so on. Again, this problem is entirely of Tesla’s own making, but also reflects an old problem in the tech industry: the Osborne effect, in which announcing a new version of a product while still trying to sell an earlier one reduces sales of the one currently available. This is just a unique spin on that particular problem given that the Model 3 isn’t actually a successor to the Model S.
Apple Launches Website for Android Switchers (May 22, 2017)
A little under two years ago, Apple launched its first Android app, “Move to iOS”, which was designed to help Android users make the switch to an iPhone. Now, Apple has a new section of its website up which is designed explicitly to help (and help convince) Android users switch to the iPhone. Given that almost every buyer of an iPhone in mature markets is going to be an existing smartphone owner, the two key drivers of iPhone sales in those markets are switching from Android and upgrading from earlier iPhones, and both have been a consistent theme on recent Apple earnings calls. So targeting that audience of Android switchers specifically makes perfect sense. The site focuses on a few aspects of buying and owning an iPhone: ease of use, ease of switching, camera quality, speed, privacy and security, iMessage extensions, support from Apple people, and environmental responsibility. Out of all the possible things Apple could emphasize, that’s an interesting list – design, for example, isn’t one of them, though the word appears in other contexts three times on the site, and all the things highlighted here are functional rather than aesthetic. In fact, other than one oblique shot of an iPhone at the top, there isn’t a single full shot of an iPhone or any shot with the screen on until you get to the “buy” section at the bottom. Given how central the design message and product shots have traditionally been to Apple promotional material, that’s an interesting departure and likely reflects research on why people switch from Android. It’s also worth checking out a set of five short videos Apple has made to go along with the site.
AT&T Starts Using 5G in Marketing for LTE Services (Apr 25, 2017)
AT&T announced today that it’s bringing what it calls 5G Evolution to over 20 metro areas by the end of the year, starting with Austin. However, as I’ve said before, 5G itself hasn’t been standardized yet, so the best anyone can claim to have today is pre-5G technology. But what’s more worrisome about this AT&T announcement is that it’s actually using that 5G Evolution brand as an umbrella term that includes some technology that has nothing to do with 5G, notably the faster LTE technology in the new Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+. What we’re starting to see is the same marketing-led muddying of the water over a new wireless generation we saw with 4G a few years back, when Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T all used the term 4G to describe non-standard 4G network technologies (WiMAX and HSPA+ specifically). We’ve also already seen the gigabit LTE label thrown around, and though it’s technically accurate in terms of maximum throughput, it’s likely to disappoint consumers who actually use it. While carriers might want to steal a march on competitors, this does nothing for consumers, who will likely require significant education when real 5G does launch without being further confused by labeling non-5G technology with a 5G-related moniker. It also means that when 5G does launch, consumers will wonder what they’ve been using all this time, making it hard to develop strong marketing messages around real 5G. I’m hoping this doesn’t spread, but past experience suggests it will.
Instagram Stories has been a huge hit, in part because it taps into the same instincts that have driven Snapchat’s massive success: it allows people to share photos and videos in a way that’s more casual and therefore more natural. It’s therefore smart that in advertising the feature in a global campaign, that’s one of the elements the company is focusing on. But an out-of-home campaign like this also suggests Instagram wants to attract new users to the feature and to Instagram, not just ride its existing base in growing adoption of Stories. Note that this story quotes the same 150 million user number we’ve seen for Stories in the past from Facebook – when it reports financial results for Q1 in a few weeks, it’ll be worth looking for an update on that number, to see whether it’s stagnated (or whether growth has slowed).
Update: on April 13th, Facebook announced that Instagram Stories now has 200 million, so looks like growth is still going strong.
I’m not quite sure about the headline here – in fact, I think the point of Apple’s new ads is that the iPad can do many of the things your computer can do but without some of the downsides. The examples cited include built-in LTE, Pencil support, lack of viruses, and portability. It still doesn’t feel like the iPad has a single clear value proposition in the same way some of Apple’s other devices do, but Apple is getting better at communicating some of the several reasons why you might want an iPad, and an iPad Pro in particular. And I’ve no doubt the wireless carriers will be delighted that two of the four ads specifically mention the optional built-in LTE.
Apple is no longer the most valuable brand in the world as Google takes top spot – MarketWatch (Feb 2, 2017)
This is one of those exercises that seems almost entirely intended to garner interest for the company doing the evaluation, and indeed Brand Finance’s actual report starts by explaining how it does similar analyses for clients. As usual, the methodology is just opaque enough that we have no idea how the results are actually arrived at in detail, but it’s fairly clear that there is a financial component – in other words, it’s very likely that Apple’s drop in revenues in the past year had a big impact on its 27% “drop in brand value”. It’s ironic, then, that the report should arrive the same week as Apple announced its highest ever revenue and iPhone shipment quarter, not to mention highest Apple Watch shipments and revenue and highest Mac revenue. The short-term financial focus of the Brand Finance exercise is clearly something of a flaw in its methodology, but it’s generally worth discarding any such study entirely, unless it’s strongly rooted in customer perceptions of brands and the products they represent.
Snapchat NYC Spectacles store is mostly empty – CNBC (Jan 26, 2017)
Snap’s foray into hardware coincided with its new company name, and the marketing strategy for the Spectacles was genius – very short supply combined with a sales model that made availability even narrow by focusing it on single vending machines that moved around, combined with a single permanent store in New York City. However, it’s becoming apparent now (if it wasn’t obvious from the start) that Spectacles aren’t going to be massive sellers. Yes, hundreds of people lined up early on to buy them, but the crowds have now disappeared. I’m somewhat surprised Snap hasn’t put Spectacles up for sale anywhere else yet – it’s still basically impossible to buy a brand new pair at list price unless you live in or visit NYC or happen to be in one of the other places where the moving machines have turned up. That suggests, though, that this move into hardware was more experimental than strategic, and raises the question of whether we’ll see more of this from Snap in future. There’s certainly potential for some interesting new functionality around AR in future versions, but there are few indications at this point that Snap has any big plans.
Twitter CMO Leslie Berland spoke at CES about what Twitter is doing to grow its business, and it gets at the root of Twitter’s current problems. The good news is that Twitter seems to have a decent understanding of why it’s stuck when it comes to user growth – people don’t know what Twitter is for, they think it’s a social network, and they think they have to tweet themselves to get value out of it. The problem is that Twitter hasn’t done very much yet to address these three issues effectively, and you could argue that’s Berland’s job now, to the extent that marketing includes product. But of course Twitter has famously had separate heads of product, and Jack Dorsey himself seems to want a strong role in that domain too, which may be part of the problem (that and the inability to retain those heads of product).
Snap (formerly Snapchat) continues to do things differently from almost every other social network out there (though Facebook is imitating it lately). This article details Snap’s approach of treating celebrities like any other user, which is in keeping with its focus on authenticity, but can also be frustrating for big names.