The John Griff Column: The best laid plans…?

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You can imagine the board room meeting. Giddy at the prospect of pitching its new advertising campaign for the company’s latest off the line product, the marketing team dims the lights, fires up the screen and presses play. Delighted with what follows, the board signs off, awaits the glowing reviews, anticipates record global sales and everyone takes a 3 hour lunch break.

During which time the sky falls in.

Apple, what were you thinking with your latest marketing launch? Faced with a declining market for the sales of its iPhone together with lacklustre corporate performance in the recent past and criticism of its longer-term support for older versions of its products, the company has just scored a huge own goal at exactly the point when it was trying to innovate, celebrate and boost revenues. Entitled ‘Crush!’ Apple’s latest campaign for the iPad Pro debuted around the world last week and pictured a large industrial press being used to crush musical instruments such as a piano and guitar as well as media equipment like cameras and TVs, whilst its own product was seen to rise above, presumably as the ultimate music making and media item. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook waxed lyrical on social media via Twitter thus:

"Meet the new iPad Pro: the thinnest product we’ve ever created, the most advanced display we’ve ever produced, with the incredible power of the M4 chip. Just imagine all the things it’ll be used to create."

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Musical royalty - why would anyone want to crush a Steinway?Musical royalty - why would anyone want to crush a Steinway?
Musical royalty - why would anyone want to crush a Steinway?

Well, maybe in the corridors of Apple’s Californian power base in Cupertino Tim, but less so just about everywhere else on the planet. Instead, as the advert played, musicians, creatives, end users, teachers, and just about everyone who has ever picked up a musical instrument and made a sound with it, looked on, aghast. Did the company REALLY think that with its latest iteration of a product which has been around for almost fifteen years it was going to sweep away centuries of instrument manufacture, study, practice and application by countless members of the public? The sheer corporate arrogance was breathtaking to behold – and completely deaf to how it would be perceived by many who, presumably, are already Apple users in some form. In February last year it was stated that Apple had crashed through the 2 billion units in active use barrier. Impressive stuff.

But that arrogance wasn’t borne simply out of an overzealous marketing division that forgot first principles and managed to insult the very market it was trying to engage. Apple has been criticised in the past for apparently managing down the response rate of its own, older products, so that the bright and shiny new ones might appear more desirable to the consumer. Built in obsolescence occurs in many areas of design as new materials, tastes and techniques of manufacture drive innovation. Actively preventing consumers from getting the most out of their perfectly usable products has more than a whiff of Big Brother about it – and Apple caused a huge stink as a result.

Now it’s done it again – and a considerable amount of humble pie is being consumed at senior management level within the company. Within hours of its controversial advert going live, Apple's Marketing Communications Vice President Tor Myhren had been forced to issue a grovelling apology. ‘Creativity is in our DNA at Apple, and it’s incredibly important to us to design products that empower creatives all over the world. Our goal is to always celebrate the myriad of ways users express themselves and bring their ideas to life through iPad. We missed the mark with this video, and we’re sorry.’

But even here, Apple’s got it wrong again. Notice anything disingenuous about his words? How exactly do you ‘…celebrate the myriad of ways users express themselves…’ when you seek to force them to use only an Apple product?

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In reality I’m sure that the people of Appleworld in California really had – and have – no intention of creating their own deconstructive bonfire of the vanities with the release of the new iPad Pro, which went on sale yesterday. They really did not intend to create the kind of aura which Ray Bradbury wrote about in his 1953 dystopian novel ‘Fahrenheit 451’ where books are outlawed and firemen actively set fire to mountains of them. But if it is indeed true that a picture is worth a thousand words, right now Apple has released an advert which it will never be able to shut down or delete. Whats more, it might backfire badly on its sales figures. I can see schools and their music departments thinking very hard about their application of machine music making in the classroom. True music making certainly embraces computers and has done so ever since computers were invented – take the music of Kraftwerk or any band with any kind of synthesizer in it and just about everyone is using them. But to suggest – even mistakenly - that the world has been waiting to scrap its analogue musical instruments in celebration of the arrival of a new, flat shiny thing which has already been production programmed to become an obsolete, tarnished flat thing in just a few years is crass in the extreme.

So, what’s the solution to a dilemma of Apple’s own making? Right now, it has handed business educationalists a masterclass in how not to go about marketing successively. Its wrongfooted example will be taught forevermore, with glee. Instead of an insincere ‘…we missed the mark…’ statement which addresses nothing, wouldn’t it be great if Apple were to indulge in some patronage of creatives around the world and celebrate their output with existing instruments and implements? How about sponsoring a few places at music colleges? Funding for new instruments in schools? Maybe even setting up Apple’s own music festival for classically recognised instruments AND its own products?

Apple has proved itself to be badly out of tune – it needs to genuinely introduce harmony if it is to proceed.