A lesson from Apple writers on how to write, and not write, depending on the audience


Here is a great lesson from the masters of the marketing universe at Apple Inc. on the nuanced science of tailoring your message to different audiences. It’s an easy lesson because all you have to do is read how they wrote two paragraphs.

Both two-sentence paragraphs appeared on Apple’s website for the first time today and both describe the exact same new feature that is a part of the upgrade version of Apple’s web browser, Safari 5.

This first paragraph was written by a PR person, or, more likely, a team of PR people, and appears in this press release. As you can easily tell, it was written with great care to avoid saying what the feature actually does:

“Safari Reader makes it easy to read single and multipage articles on the web by presenting them in a new, scrollable view without any additional content or clutter. When Safari 5 detects an article, users can click on the Reader icon in the Smart Address Field to display the entire article for clear, uninterrupted reading with options to enlarge, print or send via email.”

The second paragraph, appearing of the Safari 5 What’s New page was written by someone who knows Apple is locked in a browser war with Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, and the stakes in this war are worth billions of dollars. In other words, this copy isn’t fluff: it’s copy designed to translate the feature into something so compelling that the potential user reading it can’t wait to download it:

“Safari Reader removes annoying ads and other visual distractions from online articles. So you get the whole story and nothing but the story.”

You may wonder why PR people can’t write like that.

Here’s the reason: Also this morning, the PR people had to issue this press release telling the world how much advertisers are loving Apple’s new mobile advertising platform that will be released on July, 1:

“Apple has iAd commitments for 2010 totaling over $60 million, which represents almost 50 percent of the total forecasted US mobile ad spending for the second half of 2010.*

Bottomline: PR people can’t be bragging in one press release how Apple is charging advertisers tens of millions of dollars to help them get annoying ads and visual distractions in front of people who use Apple products, and then in the next press release, be bragging how they’re helping Apple product users “remove annoying ads and other visual distractions.”

  • Ouch. Nice catch. Reminds me of the Baby Bell telcos in the 90s when I covered the FCC. They would got to the FCC and say so many people are getting 2nd phone lines for Internet calls that we are overwhelmed and need regulatory relief. Then they would go to Wall Street analysts and say so many people are getting 2nd phone lines for Internet calls that we are overwhelmed — with cash & profits.

  • Adam

    I don’t see it that way. The Safari Reader button is quite similar to the ‘Print’ link that appears next to many articles on the web, on the New York Times site and the Wall Street Journal for instance. It’s easy to overwhelm the average PC or Mac user with visual clutter, most people are using a fairly large display and websites can feature horizontal banners on the top/bottom of the page, ‘skyscrapers’ on the right side, etc. Those can be annoying. Both features will help you read multipage articles more effectively by removing visual distractions. And in both cases, people will see the banners before using the Reader mode or clicking the ‘Print’ link on the website, and after they finish reading the article.

    On the iPhone and other smartphones, the display is so small you have to zoom-in on a column of text to actually read an article and all the clutter is automatically relegated off-screen. And iAds won’t be nearly as annoying, there will be a single banner at the bottom of the page.


  • howardweaver

    I think you may have jumped to a conclusion that isn't there, Rex.

    Does iAd (mobile apps) really have anything to do with Safari, a web browser?

  • @Adam – As a web and mobile device user (and especially, as a reader of lots of web text) I agree with your logic. However, my post was primarily one about “words” and how they are used. I like Safari Reader (as I like a other ways to accomplish the same, ad-free formatting of text articles I find on the web). However, if someone were to come up with a way to block the display of ads served up via the iAd network, it is my opinion that we would immediately discover that Apple would not allow us to each, as individuals, decide what is, and is not, annoying.

  • somerandomnerd

    It certainly will if the same feature appears in the Safari web browser on the iPhone and iPad.

  • somerandomnerd

    It certainly will if the same feature appears in the Safari web browser on the iPhone and iPad.