“Technology is a glittering lure, but there is the rare occasion
when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash
if they have a sentimental bond with the product.”
– Don Draper, creative director, Sterling Cooper
I’ve buried the lede in this post — Somewhere down below, I’m going to have the audacity to suggest the demigods of marketing and advertising at Apple and their agency, Chiat-Day, are the reasons that the Apple TV is merely “a hobby” and not a successful product. But first, the set-up.
I have an Apple TV (okay, I have just about an Apple Everything) but frankly, I often forget about it. I don’t watch TV passively (it’s not ever on in the background), so when I actually watch TV, it’s with intent. Whenever it’s time to watch TV, I usually have several movies or recorded episodes of shows queued up on my Cable-box’s DVR.
Recently, however, I was messing with my Apple TV to see how the iPhone “Remote” app works (it’s rather clever). Out of curiousity, I surfed around the features of the slightly updated software version of the Apple TV and discovered there is now a much larger selection of movies and TV shows than when I last checked in. I was also impressed by the growth of video podcasts being provided from sources big and small. Long story short — I downloaded the first season of Mad Men and my wife and I ended up being engrossed in the program over the next four or five nights.
However, downloading TV shows and movies is not what makes the Apple TV special. (More later, on what is special about it.) Access to TV shows and movies better not be, because I can get movies and TV shows about a dozen other ways. But accessing TV shows and Movies is what consumers first think about when they hear Apple TV described because that’s the way Apple has marketed it. So it’s not surprising that during the quarterly financial conference last week, Apple executives told analysts the AppleTV was still “a hobby” — a reference to what Steve Jobs called it in January when admitting its sales had not been robust.
For most tech bloggers, reporters and financial analysts, the “solution” to Apple TV’s lack of sales success can be solved the way they believe any technology product problem can be solved: by adding features or making it “more open.” “More features and openess” is to techies what “better branding” is to marketers — the solution to everything. For example, here’s a link to a recent post on Weomatica where Jason Kaneshiro has a wish list of features that could improve Apple TV. And today, Dan Frommer says it’s time Apple gets serious about Apple TV and calls for them to, drum-roll please, add a Blu-Ray drive.
I don’t believe the problem with the Apple TV is with technology. It’s a (you can’t believe how amazed I am to be writing the next few words) failure by Apple to successfully market a product. I believe the marketers at Apple and Chiat Day — the ones who regularly are mythologized for their unique brilliance in branding and advertising — have blown it with the Apple TV. They’ve done a terrible job articulating any unique benefits of the Apple TV and have, in a rookie-blunder way, done nothing to explain to consumers why it is different from getting movies or TV shows via cable or from Netflix or Blockbuster. These marketers, who have created the most effective campaign ever conceived to explain product features, the iPhone, have done nothing even good, much less brilliant, to explain why anyone with a Tivo or Cablebox would ever need an Apple TV. The only advertising support they’ve given the product was a lame TV ad (did anyone actually see it on TV?) telling us how we can watch TV shows and movies on our TV.
Additionally, Apple has not given the product the “paid-media” support that typically accompanies the launch of an entirely new genre of consumer product. Think about it. Apple has spent (and continues to spend) hundreds of millions of dollars each year on incredibly effective product advertising and astoundingly powerful promotional pushes for iPods, iPhones and Macs. What kind of media buy schedule did that Jack Black ad receive — compared to, say, a week’s schedule of iPhone ads? Where is the outdoor? Where is the magazine advertising? If you answered, “nowhere,” I think you’d be close to correct. (Please, tell me if I’m wrong.)
So what should Apple do?
While I’m not an advertising expert, I know one: Don Draper, the creative director at Sterling Cooper. I asked him about the Apple TV and he said the one thing consumers can do with an Apple TV that they can’t do with NetFlix or Tivo or their Cable Box is to tap into photos and videos of their family — even family members in far-away places who can stream photos and video from anywhere in the world. It’s like having another channel on a grandparent’s TV that says, “The Grandson Channel” and grandparents can tune in to see his latest soccer game — without a computer. Again, it’s not about technology — you don’t need a computer to watch the Grandson Channel. All you need is an Apple TV hooked into your TV (Don left out the part about needing Internet access).
So what should Apple do, I asked.
“They should stop talking about the Apple TV just accessing movies and TV shows,” Don told me, “The Apple TV is about the ability to travel over time and space to experience the most special moments in the lives of those you love most. It takes us to a place we ache to go. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around the world and back home again. A place where we know we are loved.”
Wow, Don, I said. If Chiat Day was smart, they’d hire you away from Sterling Cooper to develop a campaign to save the Apple TV.
So Apple, listen to Don. He’d tell you the Apple TV is not about downloading more TV and movies. It’s about connecting with those you love.
He’d tell you, it’s not a wheel. It’s a carousel.