Highlights From a Former Apple Marketer’s Evening of Insight

My average Tuesday night consists of a half-assed dinner, social media catchings-up, a good book and a beer (or two). But this Tuesday was a deviation from my lax nighttime schedule in an attempt to educate myself.

I try to make it to the occasional open-to-the-public lecture (sometimes I miss college), and last night Buffalo State happened to be hosting a talk by venerable Silicon Valley marketer Bill Cleary. Mr. Cleary is a long-time marketing professional who originally hails from the Buffalo, NY area. Having spent the last 30 years working alongside California’s biggest technology companies (namely Apple), he returned to share his experiences with our humble local populous.

Yes, I know we’ve all heard endless babble about how pioneering and successful Steve Jobs and Apple have been in past years. But Cleary’s talk used Apple’s successes to illustrate the importance of several vital aspects of branding strategy, and this inspired me.

Differentiation

It’s all about standing out in a world saturated with bland, like-minded media. Cleary explained that Steve Jobs differentiated his brand by simplifying user experience at a time when technology was dominated by complex devices. UI design was one shining area of Jobs’ genius. Once he laid the minimalist groundwork for Apple’s products, they followed up with several slick advertising campaigns that established his brand’s image by reflecting its simplistic design.

Apple knew it was creating a revolution in the technology industry, and in 1984 they made their first bold splash with an iconic, dystopian, Ridley Scott-directed Super Bowl commercial to introduce the first Macintosh computer. The brilliant ad stuck in the heads of millions of Americans viewing the big game, and is still easily recalled today.

Meanwhile, here’s how IBM was introducing their new products in 1984.

Nuff’ said.

Then the 90s rolled around, and Apple’s line of “think different” advertisements took the next step. The images were an evocative amalgamation of black and white celebrity portraits and the Apple logo, each touting the aforementioned phrase. They epitomized the company’s unique approach to innovation. Subtly comparing itself to many of the last century’s greatest minds, Apple was making a statement; we think for ourselves, and you should keep your eyes on us because we’re going to be the next big thing.

Brand Personality

But being different is only the first step. You can be as rebellious and off-beat as you want, but it isn’t worth much without personality. After all, personality goes a long way.

Highlights From a Former Apple Marketer’s Evening of Insight image pulpmemejpg1Highlights From a Former Apple Marketer’s Evening of Insight

Sorry if you don’t get it… go watch Pulp Fiction and let it help evoke your brand’s inner attitude (but leave the 9mms at home, please)…

Much of what Cleary covered had to do with Apple’s brand personality. The highlight of this discussion had to do with the vibrant iPod television spots of the past decade. Featuring silhouetted iPod users dancing across a colorful background (each of which was a color available for the iPod) these advertisements were an unforgettable staple of the iPod’s image.

But what many people may not know is that the original iPod commercial was a flop.

Jamming out on his laptop to a song that sounds like it could be filler on a Gran Turismo soundtrack, an average guy explicitly drags the track onto his iPod, ejects the device and proceeds to dance around his apartment in the lamest of manners. Yes, the song was catchy. Yes, the actor and cinematography was enthusiastic. But this commercial left something to be desired; it just didn’t convey the poised, imaginative message that we were used of seeing from Apple.

The new ones went back to the drawing board. They embraced the bold, minimalist, iconic style that Apple had already made work for itself years before. These ads tactfully emphasized what mattered most and focused on the product (the stark-white MP3 players and signature ear buds that gracefully danced around with the figures).

Apple had reclaimed its rich personality thanks to the minds of many clever marketers. They went on to create a slew of the colorful iPod commercials and retained the lively musical approach in their advertising for the iPad.

Inspiration

A successful brand is one that’s instantly recognizable in a promotion or advertisement. Its distinct aesthetic and attitude can be picked out of a crowd, and its clever appeal yields a satisfied reaction from customers. We can learn a lot from what Steve Jobs and the other brilliant minds at Apple have done with the brand in the past few decades. And I most certainly have.

I love finding gatherings like this one. When I find myself getting sucked into the monotony of the daily grind, there’s nothing quite like spending my evening with a talented, inspirational individual.

I arrived at the event with an elementary understanding of these branding concepts. But I left with a much stronger grasp and motivation to integrate them into my own work. I walked out feeling refreshed and full of ideas, excited about the work I do and possibilities for the future.

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