The Iceberg That (you heard it here first) Will Sink the Brand

We consumers live in an overbuilt world. In the digital realm that goes without saying. To use myself as an example, I have a rather huge music collection that has absolutely no chance of ever filling up the 160 GB iPod Classic that it lives on. Actually I don’t even use that device anymore. It all fits on the new phone. But overbuilt is everywhere. There is no earthly reason for urban pickup truck drivers to wheel around in 80-foot tall 100-foot long boulder haulers. But they do and we accept this without so much as a roll of the eyes. Fact is, consumers don’t like consumer products. They like professional products. That’s why one-time specialized brands like Timberland, the North Face, Carhart and Makita have become mainstream consumer products. That’s why Dodge or GM or Ford or all of the above refer to their trucks as ‘professional grade.” If I could think of a professional grade food, I’d go into business with it…Oh wait. Gatorade.

Which brings up the inevitable content of most early 21st century marketing blogs, a rant about Apple. Some history. There was a time, a time before the i-anything when a Mac was an expensive, high performance tool used by designers, art directors, print production artists, photographers, video and film people and, well and that’s about it. It was a professional grade niche brand that struggled along from design to design under the weak updraft of the committed faithful. Why were they faithful? Its operating system was the only one that really worked in the creative industry. And that’s it. Apple was as professional a product as Finning is a tractor.

We all know Apple had trouble. It needed to be a consumer product to survive. Better a consumer product than no Apple for anyone right? Well of course! So along came the letter i. Soon the world had a new darling consumer brand. Apple enjoyed a growth curve that inspired the undeserved self-congratulations of a thousand marketing guest speakers. It bucked a recession, became synonymous with the word innovation and started showing up in the coffee shop chairs, then schoolbags of everyone who had a little cash and a self image that needed to tell the world it was “Creative.”

Great. Apple had brought the world a parcel of beautiful and even groundbreaking consumer products. Meanwhile it kept the pro’s happy with a bunch of products creatively labeled as well, “Pro.” Predictably, consumers wanted to own Pro too. So, like trucks and tools, and shoes, and coats, it became a consumer product. Sadly, and inevitably Apple products began to emerge with all the disposable build quality of the average cheap consumer product. Sure the price tag stayed high, why not? It wasn’t the product that was for sale anymore, it was the brand. So now, photographers, film companies, design and ad shops have a large pile of dead, nearly dead and we-won’t-admit-it-but-it’s-dead-too, Apple gear. And a point of view that has travelled from undying support, to grief to angry blogs.

By way of example, and maybe revenge, I report that here at Spring we have had three top-of-the-line $4000 plus MacBook Pro’s drop dead in the past year – Apple Care covered the repairs but we’ll never get our weeks of down-time back. The really good iMac that was in production died an ugly death just days after its first birthday. Weirdly, we forgot to get Apple care on it. You would think we would know better. Its big brother came to us dead in the box. It never worked at all.

Account services uses PCs. They cost about $600 each. In seven years, not one has packed it in before its obsolescence.

You can say that my point of view might be as obsolete as those old PCs. After all, Apple isn’t computers, it is phones and iPods and Apple TV and iTunes. True. However, as the technology gap closes between Apple and its competitors, the quality of products must stand up as a touchstone to what sets the brand apart. A product that can no longer earn the respect or even trust of its professional users cannot hope to hide behind an old reputation for long. Just ask Detroit in 2008.

I’m not happy to see the cracks in Apple. I’d prefer that they sold great machines that one can depend on. It is a wonderful world where a person with curiosity, work ethic and creativity can make something amazing while seated in a coffee shop, classroom or basement. But to use a cliché as old as me, they don’t make ‘em like they used to. But in this case it’s not a cliché, it’s a fact. Take for example the 2007 and earlier Macbook Pro. It has a bladder under the keyboard to protect it from spills. Sensible. It’s not on the newer ones. Sad.

Now I finally arrive at the point of all this. If ever one line in a commercial tore a leak in its competition, Samsung did it to Apple with its spot-on parody of the Apple faithful, portrayed as slavishly standing in line for the release of the iPhone 5. I swear the line of TV script delivered by a hilariously well cast Apple zealot will be seen in the future as the iceberg that ultimately sank the brand.

HIPSTER GUY: The headphone jack is going to be on the bottom!!! Phfeeeew! (Hipster Guy makes a mind-blowing noise while using his fingers to mimic his own head blowing off)

So let’s see. The products aren’t very good. Now they’re not very cool either. Sell the stock if you have it. Buy Samsung if you can. You heard it here first.

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