Cool or Not, the Thinking Behind Apple's 'Genius' Spots Was Smart

One of Company's Great Strengths Is Its Support Group in Stores

By Published on . 2

I don't understand the hysterically negative reaction to Apple's "Genius" ads. Yes, yes, I know that the Apple purists objected to the departure from Apple's iconic commercials showing all the great things the products can do. To them, nothing should change -- the type, the music, the voice-over. Few brands have such strident guardians, and that 's good -- to a point.

Apple fanboys hated the 'Genius' ads, but they pushed a unique product.
Apple fanboys hated the 'Genius' ads, but they pushed a unique product.

But one of Apple's great strengths is its support group at Apple stores -- the geniuses who can answer all your questions and explain all the apps.

And there's another motive in play here. Apple knows that if consumers buy one of its products at an Apple store, the genius support staff will take the time to school them in all the features of the product. And a product you know all about is more valuable than the same product you don't know all about.

So Apple's strategy in running the genius commercials, I surmise, is to promote sales at its own stores. Apple's management team probably feels that the company can't rely on its other retail partners, like Best Buy, to pull their weight. Apple makes more money on sales from its own stores and the "genius bar" ads were intended to drive more people to Apple stores.

But I hope negative reaction won't deter Apple from its goal. One person who commented on our online story on Apple's dropping the ads had it exactly right: "To be honest, I think they got terrible after everyone said they were terrible. Considering the amount of free press they got, I think more people saw the ad than was originally intended. And let's face it, Jobs designed the Genius Bar for a reason, and it's because despite how simple Macs are to use, there's still a learning curve. All you do is admit that this advertising is for older, new customers, and it works. It's just all the "fan-boys' who are upset because Apple lost a little of its cool for practicality."

Our story said that since mid-July 2011, adults 35 and older have been the biggest supporters of the Apple brand and its most enthusiastic customers. The Olympics, where the Apple ads ran, drew an audience "comfortably over 35, meaning Apple is hitting the right demo with -- dare we say it? -- the right message."

As another commentator said: "Why is the aging of Apple's fan base, if indeed that 's what's occurring, an "uncomfortable truth'? Aren't the 35+ age group the people with the money?"

So what's so off-putting about the Apple spots? One opens with a shot of people sitting on an airplane. A voice comes over the intercom: "This is your captain. Is there an Apple Genius onboard?" An Apple employee in a blue shirt stands up and raises his hand. "I'm a genius," he says. A flight attendant leads him down the aisle, explaining that a man in 3B forgot his anniversary and wants to make his wife an iMovie but the plane lands in 27 minutes. The man in a panic says: "Look at all this footage." Genius: "It's gonna be OK." The man says: "Move this here? So I just drag in our wedding song. ... What if I want to add an ..." Cut off by announcement: "Please turn off all electronic devices." Man: "Oh, we're not going to make it." Genius: "We're gonna make it. Add the sepia effect. It's very romantic." They chuckle and shake hands. Then the flight attendant leans in and says: "We have two minutes, 21F is working on a keynote." Genius: "Let's go!" Man: "Let's do this!" On YouTube, negative reaction outweighed positive reaction.

Other ads show a man who is more interested in creating a photo card to announce the birth of his baby than getting his wife to the hospital. Another features a guy who says he "basically" just bought a Mac from a rather sleazy electronics store. These two also received a large number of dislikes on YouTube, which mostly attracts younger viewers.

The Apple stores are the most productive in U.S. retail, generating revenue of $6,123 per square feet (compared with $801 for Best Buy), according to Retail Sails as quoted in the Financial Times. But Apple is matching competitors' prices on iPhones.

So it makes utmost sense for the company to attract buyers of other Apple products to its stores, and the self-proclaimed guardians of the brand who hooted the Apple genius ads off the air should understand what's important is authenticity. And what could be more authentic than buying an Apple product in an Apple store?

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