g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Thursday, May 6, 2010
12:44 - Zynx has been beaten by marketing!

(top)
I find it endlessly amusing when Apple's success is attributed, by outsiders, to marketing. Like Thurrott (via Gruber):

And if youíre looking to copy Appleís success ó and you are ó then at least do it right. Itís not about the products at all. What Apple does right is marketing. Itís form over function, plain and simple. How else could the world be so excited over an unnecessary over-sized iPod touch? Because itís from Apple, thatís how. And the press markets it for them, and makes people believe that this is somehow a big deal. Itís a self-replicating back-patting, buddy system, plain and simple.

Right: that's why Apple was so overwhelmingly successful in the 90s. Those slick "Think Different" ads just made it impossible for anyone to compete with them. The very name "Apple" was a veritable password to riches and hipness.

Talk about back-patting: to ascribe Apple's recent winning streak to "marketing" and "form over function" is self-defeating and ruinous for anyone coming from the Windows camp. This is the kind of thinking that leads people like Ballmer to conclude that all they have to do to defeat this unruly upstart is to produce better ad campaigns; hence these strange ventures starring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld and of course the Windows 7 Tea Parties. Just make the marketing slick enough! Defeat the mystique of the competing brand!

Gruber is naturally right to point out that for all the buzz that presumes it a foregone conclusion that Apple's marketing is an irresistible juggernaut of social engineering, subliminal messages, in-the-tank bought-and-paid-for media attention, and insidiously omnipresent poster coverage in cityscapes against which no mere human can hope to stand, "their marketing for it, just like that of the iPhone, is simply about showing people what it does and how it works". Remember the first iPhone ads? "This is how you make a call on the iPhone." Wow. Diabolical.

But this same presumption underlies all sorts of skepticism about Apple's products dating back to the first iMac: the only reason anyone would buy one is because it's so slickly marketed. It can't possibly be because the product is any good. Clear plastic cases? No floppy drive? Oh, well, it's okay because the commercial told me so.

I don't think any of that's true. Good products succeed despite bad marketing, and bad products can't be saved by the best marketing in the world. Are there any cases of a stupid product that sold badly until the company hit on just the right way to sell it, after which it took off? (I'm not talking about stuff like pet rocks or Pokťmon, by the way, where the product is objectively worthless, but to its target audience represents something inextricably and irresistibly tied in with the marketing mechanism.) And what about good products that were selling well until a bad ad came out, after which they died?

Examples no doubt abound, but I can't think of any offhand. (Again, I'm not talking about things like movies, where the relationship between good marketing and ticket sales is pretty much the entirety of the dynamic, at least until public buzz takes over.)

I'm sure we all can name a dozen annoying-as-hell ads for companies or products that we will unhesitatingly patronize, regardless of how bananas the ads drive us. And I'm sure we all have plenty of examples of products we'll never buy no matter how skillfully we're marketed to. Apple products are just like any other: they must live or die on their own merits. Sometimes those merits create a network-effect benefit, as with the ubiquity of iPods; but that isn't something Apple created. Apple didn't promote an ideal of everyone going out and getting an iPod so they could take part in a "social". They didn't circulate infomercials educating consumers on the merits of iTunes-locked DRM versus using Napster. They just showed silhouettes enjoying music.

Whether there has over the years been a clandestine, multimillion-dollar effort behind the scenes to seed iPods into celebrity gift baskets and Macs into movie sets is one of those questions for the ages. Did we all buy iPods because Paris Hilton and Shaq had them? Did we consider buying an iMac because Derek Zoolander smashed one open to get the documents out? Maybe some people did; but to imagine humanity so helplessly susceptible to that kind of cultural pressure, that intricately tuned-in to the currents of pop and yet that helpless to resist their perceived commandments no matter how much money they're required to spend, is to imagine a species completely divorced from anything I've experienced as reality. Which I suppose is a possibility, but I kinda doubt it.

If people hated their iPhones, they wouldn't be reporting absurdly high satisfaction rates with them when called by pollsters. They wouldn't be exhibiting product loyalty and buying new iPhones and iPads. I see dozens of iPhones every week in the hands of strangers, and very very few of them appear to have any emotional attachment to the "Apple" brand or show any signs of bursting into unprovoked Apple zealotry. They don't care about open-source or other high-concept computing trivia. They just want something they can trust to work, without making them jump through hoops. They just bought what they bought because it was clearly the right answer.

AOL spent twenty years blaring TV commercials at us chanting the word easy, easy, easy; lots of people took them at their word. But eventually it became clear that no matter how much marketing they threw at people, the end product was still confusing and temperamental compared to the still mystifying (to many) but far more seamless Internet we know today. And now, like so many companies before it, AOL is little more than a search portal. Marketing can't save a loser of a product.

Those people bitterly complaining that Apple's unassailable marketing awards undeserved success to a range of mediocre products are doing themselves and the companies they presumably support a grave disservice: they're making excuses. They're calling foul, appealing to a higher authority to step in and restore the natural order of things. Rather than focusing on actually making products that actually offer consumers the kinds of inarguable benefits that Apple's do, they're lumping their failures under an unknowable umbrella of phenomena called "marketing" that absolves themselves of any need to improve what they've got to sell. They're convincing themselves that product improvements are, indeed, futile and not worth the effort. Which of course will just lead to an ever growing disparity in the market when the usability gap grows larger and larger, while Apple's marketing paradoxically becomes less and less important to its image.

I'm not saying marketing isn't important. Clearly it is; reaching your audience and making your pitch is always the first step in a sale, whether it's an advertising dollar you spent yourself or a bit of word-of-mouth referral from someone you previously reached. What I'm saying is that when people sniff about Apple's products being popular because of "slick marketing", all it reminds me of is hippies grousing about suburban life and Wal-Mart and the military-industrial complex: There's no fighting it; it's everywhere.

Because clearly nobody would choose those things of their own accordónot unless they were told to. Right?

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© Brian Tiemann