Steve Jobs’ marketing guru slags Apple advertising as boring

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Author Ken Segall worked in advertising with Steve Jobs for more than a dozen years. His new book is called Think Simple.
Ken Segall worked in advertising with Steve Jobs for more than a dozen years. Now he'd like CEO Tim Cook to Think Different about marketing.
Photo: Doug Schneider Photography

Quick, what’s the advertising slogan Apple uses for the iPhone X? How about for the iPad? What was the theme of the last Apple ad you saw?

If you shrugged your shoulders at all these questions, then you’ll understand why a former Apple ad man sees problems with the company’s current advertising strategy.

Ken Segall worked at Apple’s agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day, years ago. He cooperated with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs for over a decade. He put the “i” in iMac and worked on the famous “Think Different” campaign.

But he’s not impressed with Apple’s current marketing strategies. He thinks CEO Tim Cook is being too cautious. “In a big company environment people tend to get safer. In the old days, Apple used to do things that get a lot of attention,” Segall told The Daily Telegraph. The ad man says the advice Cook is getting is “a little vanilla.”

“The passing of Steve Jobs created a completely different approach to marketing which we can see the results of,” Segall said in an interview. “As a marketer, I look at that and can see the difference between Steve being there — and not being there — very clearly.”

A wider focus for Apple advertising

Segall wants Apple to advertise the iPhone more as a concept and less as a product. “They should be building a personality for the phone.” He argues iPhone should be “a thing that people might want to be part of because it rises above the features of the moment.”

This type of advertising would try to make people love their iPhone X because it’s an iPhone, not because of its large display or speedy processor. If successful, it helps insure people buy the next generation iPhone, no matter the size of the screen or the speed of the processor.

Apple advertising on a different tack

The advertising slogan of the iPhone X is “Say hello to the future.” For the iPad, it’s “Like a computer. Unlike any computer.”

The most recent Apple TV ad showed how easy it is to send or receive money using Apple Pay. Before that was one about using Face ID to remember online passwords.

Earlier, Apple produced Fly Market to shows how easy real-world shopping would be if all it took to buy items is to glance at them. And Unlock imagines the craziness that would ensue if our faces could unlock everything, not just our iPhone.

All of these ads focus on a specific aspect of the iPhone, the exact opposite of Ken Segall’s recommendation. But that doesn’t make them bad advertisements.

Apple’s current marketing strategy resulted in iPhone models taking 8 of the top 10 spots in U.S. smartphone sales last quarter. And the iPad continues to dominate global tablet sales. The company is doing something right.