Apple pulls off ingenious trick with AirPods Pro billboards

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Apple pulled off an ingenious trick with its AirPods Pro billboards
Breaking news: Apple's pretty great when it comes to marketing.
Photo: Apple

Question: How do you get billboards for a new product up as quickly as possible after launch, without spoiling Apple’s perfectly orchestrated unveiling? Answer: You put up the billboard, then add the product afterward.

If that sounds like way too much effort, we’re guessing you won’t be hearing back from Apple about your marketing job application anytime soon.

AdWeek highlighted Apple’s innovative two-phase strategy for AirPods Pro billboards. It’s actually kind of ingenious, too. The whole thing works for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is the thing I mentioned above. Cupertino wants to get the word out about its AirPods Pro really quickly. Apple’s awesome new wireless earphones are likely to be a top holiday seller, and the sooner everyone knows about them the better.

Some marketing messages, like video billboard ads or YouTube spots, can be unrolled immediately by simply pushing a button. But non-digital advertising is much tougher to coordinate. Apple wanted to mark the AirPods Pro launch by unveiling giant images of people wearing the new earbuds. This is reminiscent of Apple’s classic “Silhouettes” ad campaign, used since the original iPod.

However, getting billboards up takes time. Put them up too early and you’re inevitably going to have someone tweeting pictures of them and spoiling the surprise. Do it too late, and you’re missing valuable advertising time. So what better than a two-phase approach in which you put up the images with no branding, and then go back and add in the AirPods Pro and Apple logo?

Spot the difference: Here's the AirPods Pro billboard before
Spot the difference: Here’s the ad before.
Photo: Apple
AirPods Pro billboard after adding in the new hardware.
…And here it is afterward.
Photo: Apple

AirPods Pro billboards strategy is pretty darn smart

Convenience is only half of it, though. It’s also a pretty cool magic trick of sorts. In a world where people’s attention is being grabbed from every angle, an ad that doesn’t immediately scream out what it’s advertising is going to cause conversation. If people see it on the commute to work minus AirPods Pro, then see it with them on the way home, it’s neat.

According to AdWeek, Apple took more than 30,000 photos to find the right ones. In some cases, Apple introduced the AirPods Pro by adding a patch on top of the original image. For others, it proved simpler to just replace the original image entirely. The ads popped up in cities including New York, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo, Paris, Dubai and Milan.