Don Draper to Apple: The Apple TV is not a wheel, it’s a carousel

“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.

  • I was debating weighing in on this yet again (I have numerous times on ParisLemon), but you took an angle that says all that needs to be said in a way that it needs to be said. God I love Mad Men.

  • Interesting thought about the digital photos – we’ve used it for photo presenations and that is definitely a capability that hasn’t had much focus. Another are the YouTube videos – we’ve spent a few evenings laughing at silly cat videos and old music vids from the eighties. Apple has perhaps focused too much on the movie / tv show angle in the marketing.

  • Not that it’s like some kind of run away success either, but Tivo can do lots of photo magic, including viewing shots from any Picassa web or Photobucket account. There’s also some kind of video sharing service that I haven’t tried but it’s exactly the Grandma channel.

  • scott

    “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.”

    Umm, in this case, that is exactly the solution to the Apple TV “problem.” The software is there and the interface (for the most part) is well thought-out. The “problem” IS what the Apple TV is lacking. The changes necessary are relatively cost-less, and the only thing stopping Apple is its own stubborness. (Note: this would not be the first time apple ignores its customers with no valid reason. For example, the lack of landscape typing on the iPhone in the mail application is inexcusable.)

    First, they need to enable the USB port. Currently, it is only accessible in stock form as a diagnostic tool for apple technicians. That is total BS. The opportunity to simply hook up an external hd for additional content would make it far more attractive. In fact, a lot of people think this, and the market has responded with 3rd party hacks to enable usb storage. In addition, said third parties have added keyboard and mouse support, weather widgets, a safari-based browser, and opened up the Apple TV to play a number of additional file types. There is no “cost” to apple should they choose to do this on their own. They already have a weather widget for OSX. The Apple TV can already access apple.com/trailers to pull down new movie trailers. They won’t incur manufacturing expenses like they would if they added a blu-ray drive (which i think would be a pointless addition – the next round of format wars will be cloud-based, and not physical media.).

    While some argue that this kills the need for a 160gb model, the solution is quite simple. Offer an 80gb (or 160gb) as the sole model. Price the 80gb around $279 (between the 40 and 160 prices), and pitch it as something that can tie in to time capsule and/or a regular airport base station.

    Second, and in conjunction with usb storage, they need to drop the open itunes connection elsewhere. At a minimum, let the Apple TV pull content from a drive hooked up to a router without the need for an additional computer running iTunes. The Apple TV can access the ITMS to get movie rentals and purchases. It can also store content locally. By removing the need for an open itunes connection, it makes the Apple TV far more portable. If I wanted to bring my Apple TV to casa Hammock and play some movies, i have to bring my laptop. Does that make sense? No. Also, the need for an additional computer also means you need to have a network. Well, not everyone has or wants internet.

    For the Apple TV to truly become a digital media hub, it needs to be able to exist on its own. It doesn’t need additional drives. It doesn’t need a DVR function (although that would be nice). It just needs increased usability. Adding flickr and youtube support is a great feature. Did they have to do it? No. Is the new ITMS app store remote program nice? Yes, it’s a nice start. It still has some bugs, namely viewing content and controlling content, but once they get that straightened around, it will really shine.

    The other lingering problem is media. Sure, ITMS is fine for what it is, but buying movies is not cheap. Rentals can get expensive. The prospect of converting your dvd collection can be quite daunting. How do I know? Well, I’m in the process of converting over 120 dvds to .MP4 files for my Apple TV. Besides the fact that it takes over 2 hours to convert the movie using Handbrake, the related problems of copy protection which causes even additional time (making a backup using mactheripper and then using the backup as the source for a handbrake rip), and then tagging the media with MetaX, there is the financial impact of storage. This is not the sort of thing that you can really do on your standard laptop or desktop drive. I’m looking at probably a 500gb drive, and possible a full terabyte. Then there’s backing up all of the movies, because after you spend countless hours converting, you don’t want to be left with zilch when that hard drive goes bad. How many people are going to want to go through the legwork and cost (whether dollars or lost time) of conversion? Movies just aren’t like music. This IS an issue.

    The Apple TV is, at its core, yet another vehicle to push the ITMS. That’s why made functional distinctions (ex. the lack of high definition rentals) between using a mac mini with frontrow as your living room media hub and an Apple TV. They want you to rent/buy content. The goal of the apple tv is not to share home videos of jimmy playing soccer. Unfortunately for Apple and the movie studios, not everyone wants to pay $15 to get a digital copy of a movie they already have sitting on their shelf. Worse, with programs like handbrake, it makes more sense to simply rent the movie at blockbuster and rip a copy you can keep permanently. While the option to rent is nice, if I like the movie, i’ll need to spend more money to get a copy I can view at will.

    The issue really is not about marketing speak mumbo jumbo about time, space and people we love.

  • I waited for what seemed like forever for a video equivalent of AirTunes = a simple way to stream all my video content to my TV, (as AirTunes streams iTunes to my stereo), and yet I haven’t bought an AppleTV.

    Was thinking about this the other day as was pretty strange for a guy who has as many Apple products as I do not to bought one – think your post nailed it. It really is a failure of marketing. Why not market ‘the device’ as:

    ‘iPodTV’ ?

    (worries about eroding the brand equity of the iPod?)

    or how ’bout, (per your post):

    ‘MyChannel’
    You Decide What’s On

    ?

    something along those lines – AppleTV just sounds boring.

    + the “It’s not a wheel, it’s a carousel” scene in Mad Men = brilliant, (and very clever to create a show which enables you to ‘strip mine’ a decade’s ad product, (are all the Sterling Cooper campaigns real work product from the 60’s?)