Playing right into the hands of all those PC users who say Apple Macs are 'toy' machines for stupid users, Apple has presented its detractors a gift: new commercials released with the Olympics that have caused controversy in Mac circles with the allegation that they make Mac users look dumb.
Actually, to my eyes, they reflect a new reality. Apple sells these great devices that have way more capabilities than appears, yet tells new users virtually nothing about them. I get work out of teaching things that should be obvious, like how the touch interface works, how to actually quit apps and even how to turn it off, for iPads, and for Macs: total basics like how to make, rename or file folders and documents. Honestly, I feel sorry for new users, and sometimes when I see them and show them things, they do feel dumb, and that's a ridiculous situation. Apple used to enclose thick manuals with its products, and obviously most people hardly looked at them, but now you're lucky if you get the briefest document with anything from Apple, which hardly tells you anything.
Now, in no time at all, you can find the information online - or can you? All too often, no. I also train plenty of people who don't know the basics of an internet search.
For example, to find out how to shut down an iPad, your string (list of words) should be 'Apple iPad how turn off'. Type that into Google (or whatever) and you'll find the result instantly, thanks to the inclusion of the words Apple and iPad as much as anything else.
I always tell people to put Apple (or Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod) into the string first - it really filters the hits fast.
For the record, Apple has considerable and first-class resources online. But does Apple tell you that?
And for all you experienced computer users wincing at my overly clear explanation, that's quite deliberate. So many people are buying Macs now or switching, I have found all my explanations nowadays have to be way more explicit than they used to be, so that's a sea change right there. This is both when I'm teaching and in my monthly Mac newsletter MagBytes.
When I apologised for this in MagBytes, I immediately got an email from a man remonstrating that I shouldn't be apologising - to him as a new Mac user, it was a godsend.
OK, I know I risk sounding like I'm drumming up business for myself now, but I don't actually do very much training work, spending a lot more time on various writing projects. Also, my MagBytes Apple-focused newsletter goes out completely free. It's supported by a couple of ads, and I am already up to issue 32. The ad revenue doesn't even begin to address the work and time I put into it, but I see it as needed here, particularly by new users but with plenty of news and tips for experienced users, too.
For MagBytes combines a month's worth of news and tips from my macnz site into a PDF digest. (If you want to join the list, just email firstname.lastname@example.org - it goes out the last Thursday of each month and you can opt out any time. The list is private and jealously guarded by me, along with my highly trained and dangerous attack cat.)
But whether Apple's latest ads mean a 'good' campaign or not, I don't know. It certainly panders to the steadfast legions of Apple critics. But if Apple pulls the campaign early due to criticism, it risks looking as lame as Microsoft did when it began those inexplicable, expensive and utterly unintelligible Seinfeld ads with Bill Gates a couple of years ago, stopping them long before the campaign was through. I don't use the Microsoft analogy lightly - some critics of the ads have even described Apple's latest as "Microsoft-worthy". Ouch.
Hopefully, Apple is polling feedback and achieving whatever it hopes to achieve - if so, there will be a story arc that will culminate in delivering an outcome Apple deems it requires.
Ken Segall, formerly a Creative Director at TBWA/Chiat/Day, worked with Steve Jobs and helped develop that Think Different ad campaign I mentioned a week ago. According to Segall on his Observatory blog, the new advertisements are "Causing a widespread gagging response, and deservedly so. I honestly can't remember a single Apple campaign that's been received so poorly." He goes on to dissect the ads mercilessly.
Gagging response? Sure, but only from experienced Mac users, who are clearly not the target and, increasingly, just a vocal minority. Comments on the Cult of Mac forums seem to back up my own feelings - new users like them, for example Qpido: "I am buying my first Mac this month and as a new customer I think the ads were good". But many seasoned Mac users are horrified: AppleDApp: "It shows that Mac users are idiots but at least they can rely on someone at the Apple Store to help them ..."
Well, New Zealand doesn't have Apple Stores, only licensed resellers. Our resellers don't exactly get incentives to train clients, and can't offer anything like Apple Store Genius Bars, despite their protestations, because they can't afford the experienced staff on the ultra slim margins Apple allows them on sales of Apple products.
I concur that many other Apple ads have been much cleverer. For example, the polarising Mac vs PC ads - many people absolutely hated them, but almost invariably they were PC users who resented being typecast as moribund-and-puzzled by comparison to the hip-but-smarmy Jason Long for 'Mac'. Meanwhile, Mac users got simple arguments to lambast PC users with, leading to a lot more discussion about the relative virtues of either. It provided loads of people with simple and striking points to make in the favour of Macintosh. Tick.
Apple's new campaign seems to carry on a stylistic decline that started, in the opinion of some, with the Zooey Deschanel Siri ad.
BetaBeat has collated some of the more informed responses to this latest campaign. Ars Technica has defended the ads from the charge that they're Apple's absolute worst, but adds they are "too cheesy, even for an Apple ad - and borderline smarmy in all cases."
IT World just asks whether anyone else wants to "punch the 'Apple Genius' guy in the face."
Perhaps Apple has gone from Thinking Differently to Thinking Plain Wrong. What do you think?By Mark Webster