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.

Seth Godin to launch a FlockdUp-killer

You don’t need me to tell you that Seth Godin is a brilliant marketer. He sees marketing lessons in all of life’s journey. And because his lessons about marketing are shared with parable-like simplicity, even people like me can understand them — and be inspired.

Today, he’s having a little fun demonstrating how people will join “tribes” they think are exclusive. If you pre-order his new book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (due out October 21), you can “join Seth’s new tribe.” But hurry, because, “Membership is numbered, with low numbers getting prestige, first dibs on various assets and bragging rights.”

Wait, I’ve heard of this network before: It’s Melin Mann’s award-winning startup concept, “FlockdUP” — the maverick network for thought-leaders.

Okay, Seth. I’ll play along. Since I would purchase your book anyway, I’m also signing up for your maverick network for marketing thought-leaders — the receipt for my pre-order is in the e-mail.

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Help for media watcher school-marms: Entertainment is not journalism

ABOVE: This morning, the New York Times devoted an entire page to a news article suggesting the possibility of Estee Lauder’s influence on editorial decisions at Harper’s Bazaar Magazine. The news article was preceded by Estee Lauder interstitial “pre-roll” advertising and two Estee Lauder ads appear adjacent to the article.

Today the New York Times Style section includes an article (sheepish clarification: it showed up on my RSS feed of “magazine-related” news) that, in a tone of righteous indignation, reported that Harper’s Bazzar was devoting 40 pages of an issue to glamorous fashion photos modeled by four super-models/actresses who regularly appear in and on the cover of the magazine. Except this time, they will be identified as the “stars” of a new fragrance from Estee Lauder instead of, say, the stars of a re-make of Charlie’s Angels.

In the San Francisco Chronicle today, a story appears about the possibility of the FCC tightening the “product placement” rules related to, say, a Coca-cola cup appearing on the table in front of the judges of American Idol.*

As I’ve written before — many, many time — I’m a advocate for transparency in the relationships marketers have with media. I think marketers and media companies should disclose the relationships they have with one another and let the audience decide what is, and is not, ethical. Indeed, I think they should be proud of the relationships.

That said, I must ask: Among the readers of Harper’s Bazaar, are there any who really care where the ads stop and the edit begins? Have you flipped through the September issue of any of fashion magazine? I think most readers would be shocked to learn there is anything in them other than advertising. More than any genre of magazines, fashion magazine advertising is the reason they are purchased.

As for reality programs like American Idol, is the “franchise” of American Idol not a product, itself? Do viewers care that watching the whole show is like watching a commercial for the brand American Idol and all of the performers appearing are also brands?:

When Ryan Seacrest tells viewers they should go download recordings of the evening’s performances on iTunes, are viewers really duped into thinking that was an editorial decision on the part of Ryan rather than a business relationship between the Fox Network and Apple? Do viewers think the Ford music video advertisement is something the contestants do to relax during the week? Do viewers think Coca-Cola is what’s in that cup in front of Paula Abdul?

Are readers and viewers that stupid?

Okay, some are. So perhaps they need some type of explanation or disclaimer below that NYTimes.com advertisement for the product being written about in article next to it. Perhaps they need a big box that includes a warning that, “this article about Estee Lauder’s Senuous is sponsored by Estee Lauder’s Senuous.”

Bottomline: When you attempt to apply the same journalistic and ethical guidelines to entertainment (i.e., fashion magazines and “commercially-sponsored” network reality shows) that you do to news journalism (general or business), you start heading down a slippery slope to school marm silliness that soon makes serious ethical issues seem trite.

*I wrote about American Idol’s creative product placement practices earlier this year.