Apple Poised to Add Four Digital Agencies, Including Huge and AKQA

Spree Comes as Trial Reveals Envy of Samsung Marketing

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Apple's Fifth Avenue store in New York City.
Apple's Fifth Avenue store in New York City. Credit: Apple

Apple is set to add four digital agencies to its roster, including WPP's AKQA and Interpublic Group's Huge on the West Coast, as well as small, New York-based indie shops Area 17 and Kettle, Ad Age has learned.

The agencies declined to comment. Apple didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The scope of the work being assigned across the agencies is broad, and will likely include user experience and digital strategy, among other elements, according to people familiar with the matter.

Apple works with a handful of digital shops, such as Interpublic Group's Profero, Publicis Groupe's Rosetta and indie boutiques like Traction and Eleven. Rosetta recently formalized a dedicated group for its longtime Apple client under its old name, Level Studios. Omnicom's OMD supports Apple's media buying and planning.

The new hires won't impact existing agency relationships, said industry executives, including Apple's work with TBWA/Media Arts Lab, which has taken the spotlight recently.

Apple CMO Philip Schiller and TBWA hit a bump early last year, according to an email exchange that just became public thanks to Apple and Samsung's court battle over patent violations. "I watched the Samsung pre-superbowl ad that launched today," Mr. Schiller said in an early 2013 e-mail to Media Arts Lab's James Vincent. "It's pretty good and I can't help but think these guys are feeling it (like an athlete that can't miss because they are in a zone) while we struggle to nail a compelling brief on iPhone."

Apple was later seen bringing more creative talent in-house, which prompted agencies to complain about Apple poaching their digital design and creative staff, according to multiple agency executives. Last September, one executive familiar with the company told Ad Age that Apple could even double its in-house team to 500 or 600 staffers from 300.

TBWA, which is owned by Omnicom, created its Digital Arts Network in 2012 as an umbrella organization to unify its digital specialists, at the time putting Charles Capshaw and David Lee at the helm. Mr. Lee left TBWA in January 2013 to assume the chief creative officer role at Squarespace. It's not clear how involved with the Apple account the Digital Arts Network has been, but the new digital agency hires indicate that Apple is not looking to consolidate digital with its existing creative partner.

As Samsung and Apple continue the fight for market share, Samsung marketing is clearly winning for consumer love, with its cool selfies and earned media strategy. It's a rivalry that would prompt any brand to change up its marketing approach and invest in digital marketing and social media support -- an area in which Apple has been less aggressive than its competitors. It's unclear, however, whether social is part of the new shops' scopes.

Apple is still winning by the measure that counts most, with 41.3% of U.S. smartphone subscribers over the three months ending in February, according to ComScore's latest report. By comparison, Samsung had 27%. But Samsung subscribers were increasing at a faster pace, ComScore said.

Apple's worldwide ad spending reached $1 billion for the first time in the year ending with September 2012, but advertising as a percentage of sales fell that year to 0.639%, the lowest level on record for the company.

Apple has since reported worldwide ad spending of $1.1 billion in the 12 months ending with September 2013,with ad spending as a percent of sales up fractionally to 0.644%.

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