Tag Archives: Apple

The Power of Tension and Trans Fatty Acids, or why 2012 is like 1984.

First let me say this: No one should judge advertising under the influence of Cheese Whiz and Funyuns. Now that thirty days have passed, and I’ve worked off nearly a third of the calories that I consumed during our Super Bowl party, I’ve rethought my opinion that there was no “1984” ad moment. There was, but it just took longer to realize. I blame what obviously was a trans fatty acid induced stagger towards Abilene. Don’t worry. I’m good now.

Much has been discussed already about the lack of great advertising during Super Bowl 2012, and so I don’t need to spend any time here rehashing that. One ad though has continued to remain in my thoughts well past the others: Wieden + Kennedy’s Clint Eastwood Half-time ad.

My previous definition of a “1984” moment is when ad is so astounding that while watching you could be induced to join Scientology. This year it didn’t happen for me. In fact it hasn’t happened for me since 1984. Then I began thinking: maybe my definition is flawed. Maybe.

Well, here’s my new and improved checklist for determining the existence of a “1984” moment during Super Bowl, and how “Half-time in America” fairs:

  1. The production value is astonishingly good. Check.
  2. The writing is perfect. Check.
  3. The message inserts itself into an acutely felt cultural tension. Check.
  4. The ad gives me goose bumps or a lump in my throat. Check.
  5. The tone of the commercial is distinctly different than all others playing during the Super Bowl. Check.
  6. It only needs to run once, and the world continues to discuss it. Check.
  7. It pisses off “The Man,” (or at least Karl Rove). Check.

Not that you haven’t seen it a dozen times, but please take another look, and see if it doesn’t hit all these attributes squarely in the face like Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. 


Oddly enough, when I first watched it I thought it was a rip-off of Ronald Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America” spot, and in fact it seemed very conservative to me. Clint is my favorite gun lover. On the other hand, those in politically conservative circles viewed this as pay back for political patronage (to put it mildly). In this case, both sides are right, and that’s the beauty of the spot. It allows for multiple, intensely felt interpretations. It’s like that joke about the psychiatrist who is accused of sharing dirty pictures, even though he keeps explaining to his patients they are just inkblots.

Even if you think that Chrysler will never produce a product as significant or wonderful as Apple can, one thing’s for sure. The Chrysler ad did what few ads will ever do. It continued to move our jaws well after we were done gnawing on buffalo chicken wings, giving us pause long enough to look down to make sure our feet are pointed in the right direction -180 degrees away from Abilene.

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Filed under Abilene Paradox, Advertising, Brand Strength, Branding, Super Bowl Advertising

Arrogance and Opportunity, Or Fear the Rotting Apple

My multitouch Apple trackpad quietly stares up my nostrils with the malicious muteness of the Berlin wall. I’ve watched the Quicktime videos on how to operate my MacBook Pro with “simple” gestures. A single flick for this. A backwards triple swipe for that. A reverse axle double knuckle twist for something else. My hand looks like an epileptic octopus attempting to breakdance. I reach back for my trusty mouse with the speed of a gunslinger. Safe again. My little pointer finger is now back in control.

My first computer was an Apple that used a tape recorder to store data. As I type this I realize I might have to explain “tape recorder.” Here’s a link you young whipper snapper. With the emergence of the Lion operating system, I now hear Mac addicts saying things like, “Oh don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.” Really! I’ll get used to it. Yeah, like I got used to Vista. The whole point of Apple, its raison d’être, was to make me feel that I was born “used to it.” The products knew me better than I knew me.

Much has been made of the power of Steve’s visionary leadership. As he once said, “It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do. So you can’t go out and ask people, you know, what’s the next big [thing.] There’s a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, ‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse.’’’ Hmmm…”We figure out what we want…” Let that sink in for a moment.

Technically speaking, I think the multitouch mistake was simple. The wild success of the iPad convinced Apple of the power of interacting with software through touch. So why not try to replicate that on laptops and desktops. However, the core of the problem is not technical, but rather the result of the cognitive dissonance that comes from being right a lot. Welcome to the world of AOL, Microsoft, Kodak, and Polaroid. Being right a lot can thoughtlessly send a company down a path it never would choose to go. The logic looks like like this “I’m right a lot, so therefore I must be right again.” And our customers will just get used to it…

Opportunity comes disguised in many forms. Giant killers are born out of the arrogance of those that are “never” wrong. Peering from under their garage doors, or working from their basements, they see a world that can be different. They are tired of being forced to live a certain way and decide to do something about it. Like those two young entrepreneurs Steve and Woz at 2066 Crist Dr. in Palo Alto, California, who were humble, eager, brilliant, and iconoclastic.

The Birth Place of the First Apple Computer.

The future success of Apple does not lie in trying to encode Steve’s fearless decision making. Rather it depends on building in the willingness to turn right when everyone is turning left, and that is much harder for a company with the largest market cap in the world. Not to worry though. Abilene’s bigger than it looks.


Filed under Advertising, Arrogance, Entrepreneurialism, Indie, Listening, Management Theory, Marketing

Intelligent Rule Breaking, Or Why the Post Office is Not Funny

Last week I took my children to see a family-oriented improvisational comedy troop. It was not funny, but I think it was my fault. I simply couldn’t enjoy it. My palms were sweaty. My stomach was clenching – all because of the tension that these struggling artists were going to bomb like Sarah Palin giving the keynote at an Occupy Wall Street rally. Frankly, I was less nervous presenting to 1500 underfed, hungover IBM sales reps about their new brand strategy.

Improv breaks rules. This is probably why I sweat through my t-shirt. Isn’t it the rules in life that separate us from the end of civilization? Since that night, I’ve reflected on the experience and believe there is a huge lesson for brands.

What makes great improvisation is not anarchy, but actors who really understand the rules. Conventions like the boundary between audience and player or the need for a prepared storyline are toyed with. A master of improv is in fact a master of rules, and is able to dance freely in the world of known parameters and break them to your delight. The structure is only hidden, much like jazz or abstract art. The illusion the audience feels is that there is no structure, but quite to the contrary, there is a heightened understanding of structure by the players.

Bureaucracy is dumb. It has to be, because it is a system of rules designed to anticipate most scenarios. I emphasize most, but life is not that neat. Try to get the registry of motor vehicles or the post office to make an exception. Management’s job in most organizations is about keeping the rules. The Road to Abilene is filled with companies that experienced painful, avoidable wrecks by following the rules. We all sometimes cling to bureaucracy like drowning victims to a deflated life preserver.

What if we took a page from improv and ensured that employees were experts in understanding the rules, but virtuosos in breaking them. Here’s a simple example.

My business partner broke his Apple headphones. We were on a business trip and went together to the Apple store, explained the problem, and the employee asked if he had the receipt for when he bought the headphones. If so, Apple would be glad to replace them. Our hero in the blue shirt could see the look on our faces. “A receipt for a $30 headset that came with the iPhone? Really?” In a nanosecond he turned around, grabbed something from under the counter, and said “Here take these. A new set of headphones. I’ll figure it out. Have good day.” We looked at each other, overly excited about about a crummy set of headphones, but now customers of Apple for life. (Like they need more cult members…)

Organizations need rules, but customers’ needs rarely can be solved by a rule book. Great brands like great art push past the easily accepted, easily approved choices that point us straight in the direction no individual ever would go on their own, that is, down the road to Abilene.


Filed under Advertising, Branding, Group Dynamics, Management Theory, Marketing, Workability