A History of Apple's Product Launch Marketing

Ahead of the Big Device Unveil, a Few Things Can Be Learned by Looking Back

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When developers first starting building for Apple's phones, in 2007, they were given one format, for the four-inch iPhone screens. A larger format came along three years later, when the iPad debuted. Google, on the other hand, gave developers an array of options, so they could build apps for its ever-evolving cache of hardware partners and devices.

With Apple, the format options remained limited. Until June, when its latest software update blew those restrictions apart.

It was one of several signs that the nation's top smartphone-maker was ready to expand its portfolio. On Thursday, The New York Times nailed down several persistent rumors: at Apple's much-anticipated Tuesday event in Cupertino, Calif., it will unveil two iPhones with larger screens, a wearable computing device and a mobile payment system within its devices.

For the coming holiday season, there are several things to be gleaned from Apple's history of launching products. The company has given significant support to new product launches. And it typically couples expensive media buys -- in high-profile television, print and outdoor ads -- with lucrative product placement, a tactic the company pioneered.

There are other considerations. For one, Apple may be venturing into two categories -- wearable devices and mobile payments -- unproven in consumer adoption and untested in the ad world. (Apple's wearable device will not ship until 2015, according to multiple reports.) Also, as Ad Age extensively reported, Apple is undergoing a significant marketing overhaul, building a sizable internal creative team to pit against its long-time agency TBWA/Media Arts Lab.

Apple's creative strategy has also evolved since the death of its founder, Steve Jobs, in 2011, and the rise of its combative competitor Samsung.

Hello iPhone
Little netted Apple more media attention than Mr. Jobs, in his token black turtleneck, unveiling the first iPhone on stage in 2007. Yet, Apple still felt the need to advertise.

The first iPhone spot, "Hello," debuted during the 2007 Oscars. It showed the Apple logo, but not the iPhone name -- Apple was battling Cisco over the rights. That year, Apple reported an increase of $129 million in ad spending, to $467 million.

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Big support for new products
As digital media expanded, Apple avoided a centralized strategy, letting its videos proliferate across the web. Its first commercial for the iPad, in March 2010, went viral. The new tablet also found its way into mainstream television shows, such as Modern Family, a coup that came, quite likely, without paid promotion from Apple.

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The handset-maker still spends a considerable amount on TV. Last year, 80% of its measured media spending -- $627 million -- was spent on TV, according to the Ad Age DataCenter. For its size, the world's most profitable company spends little. Only 0.64% of its revenues went to marketing in 2013. (Samsung spent 1.82% of global revenues on ads and 3.51% on sales promotion.) But Apple's revenues are massive. When it needs to spend on ads, it can.

The company dropped $51.9 million on advertising for its new iPad in the second quarter of 2010, and kept up that pace for the remainder of the year, according to figures from Kantar media. Apples' ad spend leapt three-fold between 2010 and 2011, and its revenues grew faster than that. Apple spent $31.1 million in the fourth quarter of that year to promote the new MacBook Air. It spent around the same amount two years later, during the holiday season, for the MacBook Pro.

Shape of ads to come
Apple has run ad campaigns promoting specific services, like its App Store, in 2008, and its FaceTime video feature, in 2010. But the iPhone, the source of more than half of its revenues, remains the biggest beneficiary of ad spending. More than 40% of Apple's measured media spending, from 2009 to 2013, promoted the smartphone.

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This year, however, it has hinted at the shape of ads to come, as it builds devices and services that orbit the iPhone. "Parenthood," a spot from June, slyly featured plugs for Apple's growing presence in the connected home industry. Two more spots, "Powerful" and "Strength," showed off the numerous ways iPhone consumers deploy the device, including for fitness-tracking.

Apple has also increased its marketing presence abroad, particularly in China. In August, it released a mini-film with a Chinese electro-pop band. Its marketing shift is following sales. In 2009, China and Hong Kong accounted for 1.8% of sales; this past quarter, they neared 16%. For Apple, Asia is an incredibly competitive market -- one that, incidentally, loves large-screen phones.