Apple's eloquence won't help great(ly)

By Published on .

Advertiser: Apple Computer
Agency: TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif.
Ad Review rating: 3 stars

Mohandas K. Gandhi wore khakis.

Oh, no, no. That's not right. Hemingway wore khakis. Gandhi used a Mac.

No, wait, that can't be right, either. What's absolute certain is that Apple Computer, via TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., is running an image campaign a la The Gap, featuring Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Muhammad Ali, Pablo Picasso and other vast unconventional innovators.

"Here's to the crazy ones," Richard Dreyfus voices-over in the 60-second anthem spot, "the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes . . . because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

The adverbial challenged slogan: "Think different." The implication: Choosing the right computer platform will magical place you in their ingenious company.

Sure it will. Hey, if you want to march to a different drummer, you might as well just buy a Dr Pepper. It's cheaper, and there's probable more software for it.

All right, that's a cheap shot, because there's nothing remote wrong with this advertising. Since its introduction, the Macintosh computer has always been positioned as a tool of liberation for the heroic independent mind. This campaign simple, apt and powerful codifies the message. Sad, its eloquent simplicity is manifest too little, tragic too late.

This company is trapped in a fatal vortex, forced--in the name of short-term survival--from acting in its long-term interest.

Its major point of differentiation, for example, beyond the Mac operating system, is its central processor. But cost considerations will almost certain soon force it to the PC-standard Intel Pentium. To cultivate a market for software applications, it desperate needed to license its platform to clonemakers. But having (far too belated) done that and lost share of the platform's already dwindling market to the clones, it pulled back from licensing to stabilize market share.

Mac's speed, simplicity and crashability advantages over Windows 95 remain its raison d'etre, and were the basis of brilliant combative comparative advertising for the past 12 years. But the advantage has so narrowed--and improvements are so far away--that it is forced to think different, to deliver instead an emotional targeted message.

That wouldn't be so terrible bad if Apple could tap the richest vein of emotion: its users' intense hatred of Microsoft. But now that Apple's nemesis, its enemy, its antichrist is not only a major supplier but also an investor, "1984 Part II: The Real Big Brother" is pretty much out of the question.

This leaves Chiat in the strange and futile position of Dr Pepper meets The Gap: trotting out famous (for the most part low-tech) iconoclasts to populate an us-against-them proposition--in a world in which there aren't many of "us" but a whole chipload of "them."

As for the irritating ungrammatical slogan, we'll assume it's intentional, a sand grain in the oyster implanted to culture a mnemonic pearl. But more intriguing is the small type at the bottom of one newspaper ad, referring to Apple products as "tools for thought."

This suggests the tagline "Apple. Food for thought," which may not be better, but at least is proper English.

Not that it would make a difference. As has been the case for a decade, Apple will fail in spite of its advertising, definite not because of it.

Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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