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Is TV advertising responsible for Apple’s success?

I was in a meeting a few days ago where Apple was described as a company that had retreated from large-scale TV advertising, despite TV advertising being responsible for its success.

I disagreed at the time, and remain pretty sure that this is a fallacy. Am I right?

Buttressed by Wikipedia and recent “25 year of Mac” posts, my broad perception of the history of Apple runs like this

  • Set up in the 1970s to moderate success
  • Macintosh launched with ads in cinema and during the 1984 Superbowl (watched by 97m) – initially sells well and ad is regularly cited as one of the best of all time
  • Computer market slumps and Steve Jobs is fired in May 1985
  • Incremental success for the rest of the 1980s
  • Windows 3.1 and – more importantly – Windows 95 take the PC to the next level and nearly kill Apple
  • Jobs comes back in, ends most of the product developments and places his faith in the iMac
  • iMac becomes a success and a design classic
  • iPod launched – the aesthetic of white earbuds and “1,000 songs in your pocket” become ubiquitous
  • iTunes overhauls an outdated music distribution system
  • iPhone brings touchscreen technology and simple web surfing to the masses
  • Halo effect of the Apple range boosts the computers – Apple is currently the number 4 computer manufacturer in the US
  • Jobs’ ill health and the rise of netbooks raise questions over Apple’s continuing success in the computer market

To my mind, TV advertising doesn’t play a particular big role in this rise, fall and rise of Apple. There have been iconic campaigns – 1984, Think Different, the dancing silhouette – which have contributed to the success. But they have not driven it.

That is the Cult of Mac.

The iPod may be mainstream, and the iPhone may be getting there. But Apple is not traditionally a mass market company. Their computers appeal to a niche audience. They may be the no.4 manufacturer, but the choice is PC or Sony. It is not Dell, Acer or Mac.

However this niche audience is passionate. They follow. They promote. They evangelise. They attend(ed) Macworld every year and hang on Steve Jobs’ every word.

That community is what has driven Apple’s success. Apple concentrate on the product – usability, design, experience. That leaves the marketing to the community. Alan Wolk has an interesting post on this – good advertising can accelerate success, but a decent product to win over the public is vital. In the case of the iPod, the evangelism changed an industry.

TV advertising has made plenty of products successful – from Hofmeister to Barclaycard to Cillit Bang. But Apple isn’t one of them.

Unless someone like to correct me?

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sigalakos/

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