History has repeated itself - and this time the farce has blown a hole in Apple's advertising strategy.
Apple spent a year planning and shooting a sequel to its much mocked "Switchers" ad campaign from three years ago, employing the same agency Moxie, and the same director, Errol Morris, only to can the venture in the post-production phase. An account of the sorry saga appeared in a Think Secret scoop last week.
The original Switchers campaign launched in June 2002, and was hurriedly revised, as it broke one of the cardinal rules of marketing: don't mock your customers. (The first, we're guessing, is don't admit your product is rubbish).
In the first batch of ads, Morris took six ordinary users and filmed them describing their bad experiences with PCs. Now they'd switched to Mac computers, everything was fine. It was both timely and plausible - so what could possibly go wrong?
Unfortunately, irony intervened. The high concept was to film the switchers as recovering members of a victim support group. The six individuals, who looked fine, healthy and happy in real life were cruelly presented in muted monochromatic colors. The art direction fitted them with odd haircuts and unfamiliar clothes for the occasion, we later discovered, and their tales were told over mocking music. It was an exercise in cruelty apparently designed to repel middle America. Who would want to be associated with this bunch of freaks, we noted at the time. (See Monday night at the Single's Club? Apple's Real People). It spawned a discussion thread on the PC Magazine forum that lasted 18 months and gathered over 10,000 comments.
Hadn't anyone told Apple that irony was dead?
Apple listened, and for the next round of switchers, the advertising agency used a new set of switchers in full color, all looked happy and some were even smiling! Unfortunately generic American advertising uses happy smiling people very widely, so the originality of the campaign had been blunted. The campaign later inspired some inventive parodies, briefly made a cult figure out of Ellen Feiss, and dragged on until recently.
Switch, Don't Twitch
A year ago, Think Secret reports, Apple decided to revive the idea to capitalize on the popularity of the iPod. 60 volunteers out of thousands who applied were flown to LA for the shooting. But tension between the director and Steve Jobs' representatives on earth increased.
One of the original mistakes, of fitting the users into someone else's persona, was reprised, we discover -
"'It was almost as if everyone had been 'Apple-fied', one individual who had been selected for the campaign told Think Secret. With members of Apple corporate overseeing the filming, it became apparent to a number on set that tension between Morris and Apple over the direction and execution of the campaign was building," the site notes. So another opportunity to popularize on the iPod's halo effect has been squandered.
To humiliate users once is an accident, but do so twice is unforgivable. Eighteen months ago Apple and Pepsi Cola collaborated on a SuperBowl advertisement that also showed users in an unforgiving light. Many people found the ads distasteful.
It seems to be an it's an itch Steve Jobs can't help but scratch. Now if you'll excuse us, we have a date with a Torquemada. ®