Ad Age learned that since at least the beginning of 2013, Apple
has been calling adland's hottest shops to work on various
projects. One of those was to San Francisco-based Pereira & O'Dell, which conceived the
Emmy- and multiple Cannes-Lion-winning "Beauty Inside" social film
for Intel/Toshiba. According to
Co-Founder/Chief Creative Officer PJ Pereira, Apple reached out to
his agency over the past year for two projects, at least one of
which would have been long-term. "We turned them down because we
have relationships with both Intel/Toshiba and Skype (owned by
Microsoft)," he said. People close to the situation say that Apple
continues to call other top creative agencies in on projects.
In April, the brand went on a digital hiring spree and added
four shops to its roster: WPP's AKQA, Interpublic's Huge and indie agencies Area 17 and
Kettle (see Ad Age, April 9, 2014). Under Mr. Jobs' watch,
the brand was famously "traditionalist" when it came to
advertising, especially for a tech company. For the most part, its
standout work was confined to TV and print. The addition of the
shops suggests the brand is trying to bring more creativity and
innovation to its digital marketing.
Last fall, Ad Age reported that Apple was looking to build out
its in-house team to 600 people from 300. Today, according to a
high-level agency exec recently approached, Apple has upped that
number to a massive 1,000. By comparison, Google's lauded Creative
Lab, which steers some of the brand's most high-profile work, is
said to have fewer than 100 people, not all of whom are
full-timers. Google's marketing, however, isn't done solely out of
To staff its internal agency, Apple is casting its net wide. One
senior agency exec noted that within the same six-month period of
being contacted by Apple, a number of other senior creative execs
at both this person's agency and other shops had gotten calls. The
broad outreach gave the impression "they were just dialing
numbers." Another upper-level agency exec was unclear as to how
many posts Apple has been trying to fill, but said, "All I know is
all my talented friends have been approached. Apple has its sight
on some of the best talent."
For various reasons, however, top talent has resisted the
In addition to Apple's flagging creative reputation, another
recruiting hurdle for the company is its cost-prohibitive location.
"Do you know how expensive Cupertino is?" one exec said. "Just run
property values, and even on an Apple salary, it would be
To be sure, Apple still has plenty of appeal. "There are
probably only a handful of places that have that level of
expectation of quality and can afford to pay people to do work to
make it successful," said another exec contacted by Apple
The brand has managed to snag a few top names. Among them is
Bill Davenport, the Wieden & Kennedy partner who helped to
launch the agency's entertainment unit, W&K Entertainment, and
earlier in his career steered notable projects for Levi's and
Nike, including the latter's
famous "Bo Knows" spot. It's not yet known what role he will play,
but people close to the situation say he was hired to lead in-house
production. Executives close to the business said Apple has been
beefing up production beyond Mr. Davenport and is looking to create
a full-function production department capable of handling not just
creative but business-side affairs.
In April, branding agency Wolff Olins' Global CEO Karl Heiselman told
Ad Age he would be joining Apple in a marketing-communications
role. Mr. Heiselman had been a design contractor at Apple in the
1990s before Mr. Jobs returned to revitalize the company. Another
addition is Tyler Whisnand, a former Wieden & Kennedy,
Portland, creative director who worked on notable campaigns such as
Levi's "Go Forth" and Nike's award-winning "Chalkbot." People
familiar with the situation say Larry Frey, another W&K
creative alum who co-founded 180 Amsterdam and is also a commercial
director, has joined the in-house team.
In March of this year, Brian Rekasis joined as director,
worldwide marketing and communications. He recently served as
senior VP-exec producer at integrated-production company B-Reel, a
former Creativity Production Company of the Year known for its
sophisticated multiplatform campaigns for marketers such as Intel,
Doritos and Google.
Meanwhile, Apple has poached a number of former MAL staffers,
including Creative Directors Hector Muelas and Ricardo Viramontes,
and Creative Director Larry Corwin, who previously held creative
director positions at Google, BBH, BBDO and Goodby Silverstein & Partners.
Apple has tapped former Madison Avenue recruiters to ramp up its
head-hunting efforts. Among them, Linda Waste, a senior recruiting
manager who previously worked at DDB Chicago, Energy BBDO and Euro RSCG; and
senior recruiter Greg Christman, former talent director at TBWA/MAL
and recruiter at Google Creative Lab.
At the same time, according to people familiar with the
situation, TBWA/MAL has become more aggressive in its own
While hiring efforts are in full force, Apple has changed its
approach to getting creative work as it continues to increase its
ad spending. In 2013, its advertising budget rose to $1.1 billion,
up from $1 billion in 2012 and $933 million in 2011.
Much of the purview over Apple advertising lies with Hiroki
Asai, who came up at the company through package design -- and is
said by one creative to be "the creative director of all things
internal" who has "really evolved into this very powerful person"
at Apple. But his job is more complicated now than it once was,
given the expansion of the internal agency and subsequent
shootouts. In addition to overseeing much (if not all) creative
internally, he is reportedly also one of the main client contacts
for TBWA/MAL. "He's kind of judge and jury," said the creative.
'Most disrespectul thing'
Outside of controversial emails, Mr. Schiller plays a leading role
as well. People familiar with the situation say it's under him that
Apple has introduced -- or at least intensified -- a competitive
dynamic between its in-house team and TBWA/MAL through creative
shootouts. That's the type of warfare typically found between
competing shops, not agency and client.
One creative who worked for Apple said the shootouts began last
summer when the company was prepping to launch the iPhone 5C. This
creative noted that it appeared as though the shootouts would
continue, but not every project will go that route. For instance,
Apple's holiday ad, featuring a loner teen who seems to pull away
from his family's holiday festivities but ultimately turned out to
be creating a surprising gift, was assigned to Media Arts Lab.
Among the first shootouts last summer, according to one creative
close to the business, was for the "Intention" film, which debuted
at last year's World Wide Developer's conference. TBWA/MAL's work
won, earning a lot of attention in the design and fanboy community
for reclaiming Apple's authoritative voice.
The addition of new agencies and the shootouts reflect what one
person close to the situation said was Mr. Schiller's preference
for having as many people working on the business as possible.
According to one former TBWA/MAL creative, this is not the way
the partnership used to work. "It was never at this level before,"
the creative said. "It is one thing to open up your account to a
bunch of different agencies, but to build out your own troops, give
them the brief months in advance and then give it to the agency --
it's the most disrespectful thing."
One insider said "jump balls" have always been part of Apple's
approach, but the process has become more apparent over the past
year or so because, more often than not, "the internal teams have
"For whatever reason, MAL is seen as part of the old way of
doing things," said a creative who has worked on Apple marketing.
"The people running MAL made sense with the way Steve Jobs liked to
work. They had Wednesday reviews, they'd fly up to Apple and show
work, and there was a process with Jobs. Now that he's not there,
they're not innovating because they're only doing what they
Apple originally made its creative mark with longtime agency
Chiat/Day, and later, Media Arts Lab. Part of the TBWA agency
network, the latter evolved from of the longtime creative
partnership established at Chiat between its founder, Lee Clow, and
Mr. Jobs, whose collaboration birthed iconic ads such as the "1984"
Super Bowl spot and the 1997 "Think Different" campaign. TBWA/MAL
kept up the creative pace with more recent winners including the
"Mac vs. PC"campaign.
Fate of TBWA/MAL
Execs approached by Apple for internal jobs were told that TBWA/MAL
would continue to be part of the picture -- but in what capacity
remains unclear. Some say it will need to fill the service-side
duties Apple can't handle internally. Others paint a bleaker
picture of the shop's future with Apple.
For now, however, it seems it will remain a creative player for
Apple, but as part of a growing, more competitive and more
comprehensive marketing mix.
One person close to the matter said Apple's in-house marketing
leads have permission from Messrs. Cook and Schiller to scale its
marketing and communications resources to catch up to its business
growth over the last few years. "The volume of work exceeds the
resource," said the executive. Every Apple contractor, including
TBWA/MAL, is "max busy."
"They said they have so much going on from a
marketing-communications standpoint that MAL is part of their plan,
but their expectations for marketing are much greater than what MAL
is built to do," said one top exec approached for a post. "They're
just expanding their practice. They were very honest that MAL was
part of the plan, they're just not the only part of the plan."
It's hard to say whether the new approach has directly led to
better product, but in the last few months, the marketer has
clearly turned out better ads, work that helps forgive the "Genius
Bar Guy" faux pas.
Recent ads created by the internal agency include the 5C launch
spot dubbed "Greetings." It also handled last fall's iPad air spot
"Pencil," as well as another that featured a voice-over of Robin
Williams from the movie "Dead Poets Society." Meanwhile, outside of
"Intention," TBWA/MAL delivered the brand's recent Pixies-fueled ad
"Powerful" and the charming holiday spot.
The broader creative picture shows that Apple is lining up as
much talent -- on all fronts -- to inject innovation back into its
game. Outside of marketing and communication, in October of last
year, Apple generated buzz when to revitalize retail it hired
Angela Ahrendts, the Burberry CEO known for bringing the
once-stodgy brand into the modern age with groundbreaking digital
initiatives. The recent $3 billion acquisition of Beats also brings
music entrepreneurs Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine into the boardroom as
senior advisers on content.
Big moves, all proving Apple's determination to up its game. But
reinvention won't be an easy process for the company or the agency
that helped build it. To borrow a phrase from Apple's "Intention"
film, "there are 1,000 nos for every yes."
Contributing: Alexandra Bruell and Shareen Pathak