The new un-Apple iPhone ads

There was a time when we used to see a lot of TV ads for laptops and home computers. Those were the days!

And almost all of them began with the now-famous ‘Ting… ting-ting-ting-ting’ with the Intel Inside logo. And then the actual ad starts, featuring a PC/laptop made by Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Asus, and so on. Intel, by nature of being inside these OEM’s computers as the heart of the machine, used to be that important that they start the ad and then hand it over to the OEM.

But it wasn’t just Intel’s importance to the machines that made these ads start with the Intel logo – Intel also used to take on part of the advertising budget! For all that money delivered to the OEMs, Intel did not make any claims in the story-telling beyond inserting their logo in the beginning.

Let’s look at the rival camp now – Apple.

The new Apple iPhone SE and iPhone 11 ads that are being played during the IPL are, to quote a common-enough consensus, the most un-Apple’ish ads I have seen in a very long time.

That they are un-Apple’ish seems immediately evident to almost everyone, though many go on to also instantly offer their own reasons for why this is so and what the reasons could be, behind this move.

To be absolutely clear, these ads are not by Apple, but by Apple’s Authorised Distributors in India, IndiaiStore. That this campaign is timed to go live at a time when Apple is launching its own India store online is particularly noteworthy.

Would people who see this ad go to apple dot com and land in apple dot in, only to be told that the India Apple Store online is now open? Or, would they go to the URL mentioned in the last shot, jointly fulfilled by Ingram Micro and Redington? I do not know.

Unpacking the un-Apple’ness of these ads

To me, one of the most important reasons why it seems un-Apple’ish is that they (particularly the voice-over) almost make it seem like a surprise that the choice was an iPhone SE/iPhone 11. Besides the lack of polish and the exaggerated hard-sell in narrative/storytelling that I do not associate with Apple’s marketing communication, that is.

Almost as if those users (depicted in the ad) had a choice between Apple’s phones and Android phones and then chose an iPhone after having convinced themselves that they are cheaper (in case of iPhone SE) or they click better pictures, are water-resistant and drop-proof (in case of iPhone 11). All 3 ads spend 20 seconds of the 40-second duration to set the stage for the iPhone reveal with a ‘Oh’ or an ‘Ah’.

The idea seems clear, though – to promote the fact that iPhone SE is *NOT* expensive, and that the iPhone 11 has great camera meant for night photography, is water-resistant and drop-proof. But ‘expensive’ as against what? And, as the voice-over exaggerates, is the phone capable to do/withstand, X, Y and Z?

Apple’s usual marketing communication shuns even seeding a rudimentary doubt in the audience’s mind about the product’s superiority. To Apple, their products ARE superior – period. To use the surprise that someone bought an iPhone SE or an iPhone 11 is usually the domain of the relatively cheaper (price-wise, not quality-wise, I mean) Android phones when they want to sell a better perception about their phones. For Apple to use that tactic seems like a step down from their usual stand of starting with the point of view that their product is right on top, the indisputable best (they are entitled to that point of view and there’s nothing wrong with that either – you may agree or disagree, that’s it).

What about Apple distributor/partners’ earlier India-specific ads?

For comparison, let’s look at some of the earlier Apple ads created and released by Apple’s India distributors/partners.

In 2018, IndiaiStore had a series of 3 ads with the theme ‘Get It Now’, focusing on EMI options for their otherwise-expensive products. In those 3 stories, there is absolutely no question or doubt in the buyers’ minds – they bought the only product they wanted… on EMI. There was a bit more chutzpah in those stories, incidentally – some bit of charm and humor that made you think. So, they did not seem too jarring off-brand to Apple’s communication.

In 2015, director Vikramaditya Motwane (of Udaan, Lootera, and Bhavesh Joshi fame) directed an ad for Ingram Micro, to promote iPhone 6. Like the 2018 stories by IndiaiStore, this story too was rooted in Indian narratives. And there was a nice intrigue set up at the beginning that lasts till the end… to strike a parallel with awaiting the phone’s launch. Once again, I do not think it stood out of Apple’s narratives.

Does Apple know? Or, do the new ads have Apple’s ‘blessing’?

But the broader question then is this: does Apple have a say in their regional/local stories told by their partners/distributors? If you consider how famous Apple is, for holding on to their brand narratives, you may say, ‘Of course, they would have!’. Like Intel, Apple may also be funding part (or full) of the cost of production and marketing of these local stories because it is in their interest to do so. I do not know if they do have a say, but I can only assume they do, given this is Apple we are talking about – one of the world’s best-marketed brands, for a reason.

A shift in strategy, perhaps?

Now, assuming they do have a say and they let these 3 new ads pass, for the Indian market, that probably indicates a new realization for Apple: that in the Indian market, they cannot do what they do in every other market. That starting with asserting that they are the best may not be in line with the thinking of the potential buyers in India who may consider an Android phone to be of better ‘value’, if not the ‘best’ or ‘superior’. In their minds, even if they consider Apple ‘superior’ or ‘best’, hammering that may not move the needle because, at that price, the user may not be keen on going for the ‘best’, but for the ‘great/good enough’. And for that, there’s a LOT to choose from, from Apple’s rivals, in India.

For Apple to not only realize this dynamic (I’m sure they are aware of it) but to also reflect it in their marketing communication is not necessarily bad. This is in service of the product doing better business in the market. So, if this slight tonal shift helps in that direction, so be it. It sure does dilute the brand’s phenomenal premium appeal that has been built impressively over the years, however.

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