The Apple Tablet And Planned Insanity

Chances are that unless you have been living under an Internet-free rock, you have gotten a dose of the rumor mill surrounding Apple’s likely new product, the Apple Tablet computer (by whatever name it will eventually appear on Wednesday, unless it won’t, that is).

iPad/iSlate/iTablet/etc., heir to the iPhone, destroyer of lesser technology gadgets?!

The name is not the only thing that has been a closely, and purposefully guarded secret:

The blogosphere and assorted Old Media outlets have over the last few months progressively worked themselves into a tizzy over the key questions surrounding Steve Job’s next mysterious, almost Grail-like product.

Like, how big will it be? How much will it cost? How many men died during its construction?

Kidding on that last one, though not by much…

All of this is of course utterly predictable in light of Apple’s tightly constructed Archetype Branding strategy that I’ve been writing about since the iPhone wave. Secrecy is such that the Tablet so far as only appeared indirectly, as a quasi digital ghost.

Pairing Steve Job’s “Wizard of Oz” character (The Wizard archetype, coming out from behind the curtains – i.e. secrecy – with the newest technological marvel), with The Enigma archetype inherent in this elaborate charade, is creating a launch atmosphere unlike just about anything else in current business, or show business for that matter.

Of Wizards, Grails, And Zeigarnik Effects?!

Not only does mystery draw on this powerful archetype, but, just in case you prefer more scientific approaches, the so-called Zeigarnik Effect also explains the draw of an unresolved, “open” loop that has entered your consciousness. Somewhat dependent upon personality, you are likely to feel a strong urge of just having to know.

This explains why even many months ago, bloggers and journalists alike could seemingly not help themselves but to write about the mystical Tablet. And of course from the very beginning, that is just how Apple wanted it.

Even now, well after midnight in the U.S., there are thousands of tweets on Twitter every few minutes expounding one rumored aspect or the next:

Some have even argued that Apple will deliberately sprinkle out little bits of information mixed with misinformation to stoke the fire.

Whatever Jobs will be presenting on Wednesday, and by whatever name it will be called, all eyes will be simultaneously oriented toward “The Great Unveiling”. Compare this natural feeding frenzy to the rather humdrum affairs that Google or Microsoft had given us of late.

Google’s Nexus One Android smartphone launch a few weeks ago was hardly the stuff of legend with its persistent minimalism. And by the time Windows 7 was finally officially launched, so many public Alpha, Beta, and minor tech celebrity testers had already rummaged through every nook and cranny of the operating system AND written about their findings, that it was hardly news anymore.

Now, a sheer endless parade of blog posts and articles has already been written about the Apple Tablet. But those have all been speculation, rumor, and innuendo! (“Will it be a Kindle killer?” “Will it be a Play Station Portable (PSP) killer?” etc. etc.)

The open loop was NEVER closed!

As if any more titillation were necessary, the issue of Jobs’ ongoing illness/recovery and speculation that this may well be his last new product launch as Master of Ceremonies… I mean CEO. And that he therefore will have brought all of his human and, some would speculate, super-human powers of invention, design obsession, and stage craft to bear in this his final Magnum Opus.

Even now we hear whispers: Did he really say that this Tablet “will Be The Most Important Thing I’ve Ever Done.” Did he? Would he? Can the poor computer thing possibly live up to this level of hype?

Robert Scoble indeed asks if the event can even still be covered in ways that news media, journalists, and bloggers have become accustomed to over the years. Or if we need an entirely new, “curated”, meta-experience to fully appreciate the unfolding of this new reality.

And therein lies the only drawback and potential danger of such a tightly choreographed affair:

All of the pieces have to be in place (when Jobs got sick and was absent from one of these launches, the magic was clearly lacking). And when they are, a deep connection and expectation is formed in people’s psyches that may prove difficult, if not impossible, to live up to.

Beware the pitfalls of this form of powerful Archetype Branding!

Recent Ads Betray The Secret To Microsoft’s Branding Confusion

After the first two salvos in a $300 Million ad campaign, launched to soften and redefine Microsoft’s image, failed to connect despite making use of comedian Jerry Seinfeld and former Microsoft CEO and world’s richest geek Bill Gates, Microsoft has been pushing a slew of new ads in recent months. And arguably, not one of them has hit the mark.

I wrote a while ago that the attempt at humor had fallen flat precisely because Microsoft’s “The Powerbroker” archetype had been so deeply entrenched, almost literally burned into the mind of the consumer for decades. Did things get any easier from there?

The next salvo a few months ago featured the “I’m a PC” ads which cast Microsoft (by way of its supposed users) as a strange mixture of proud/aggressive and defiant/sulking. It was pointed out then that “Microsoft as Victim” just doesn’t really work. And again, the archetype branding explains why: You cannot be “The Powerbroker” and still garner much sympathy for supposedly having been wronged.

This same theme was picked up once more recently with the “not cool enough for a Mac” ad featuring a girl named Lauren, which really was meant to focus on price as an angle to attack the notoriously premium-priced “Mac” products. In theory the idea of highlighting one of your competitor’s weaknesses (price) is workable, especially during a severe recession. But you cannot do it while violating your core archetypes.

If Microsoft had said something like, “we are the largest software company on the planet, and because of that we can create economies of scale in the production of PCs and their loading with software that much smaller competitors like Apple just cannot match, thus saving you money”, it would have made some sense.

But not with this passive-aggressive jabbing built in. It confuses people. Instinctively, no one takes it seriously when the 800 pound gorilla complains about having “unfairly” been called “not cool enough”.

And then Microsoft recently launched another ad in the series that went all wrong yet again. Silicon Alley Insider explains why:

Jackson [the kid] mentions offhand he wants “a good gaming computer.” This is a fantastic line of attack for Microsoft: The Mac has a tiny library of professionally produced games compared to what’s on PCs […] But Microsoft fumbles the ball, and doesn’t follow through with what’s arguably their best anti-Mac selling point after “PCs are cheaper.”

Instead, Jackson’s mom makes an incredibly off-target anti-Apple smear: Checking out the Macs, she says “they’re kind of popular with this age.” Umm, no. Kids can’t afford Mac prices or appreciate Mac build quality. Far better for Microsoft to stick with […] Macs are kind of popular with hip adults, but expensive.

So the theme of hurt feelings clouding Microsoft’s positioning and marketing continues. In truth, as the incumbent and still near monopolist (85-90% share despite Apple’s recent inroads) in the personal computer market, Microsoft would do better not to mention “Mac” at all.

“The Powerbroker” archetype by definition can choose to ignore the much smaller competitor. Reacting to any perceived slight only makes people wonder what is going on.

But the branding confusion gets even more pronounced with the recent launch of a new series of Microsoft ads featuring a strange mixture of low key scrap-booking and CEO interview voice-overs, punctuated by a slogan of “Microsoft – The People Ready Business”:

Continue reading “Recent Ads Betray The Secret To Microsoft’s Branding Confusion”

Apple Pricing Strategies: The new MacBooks not as cheap as some had hoped

Apple launched a completely refreshed line of MacBooks and MacBook Pros last week, to the by now predictable fanfare and guessing-game imbroglio in the blogosphere. I have written previously how this is a deliberate, well-designed Archetype Branding strategy on Apple’s part, using aspects of "The Enigma" archetype among other things.

The MacBooks’ launch did contain the familiar elements of Steve Jobs’ magician stagecraft, though there was a clear attempt to build up several other high-ranking Apple managers in the process, due to recent concerns and rumors regarding Jobs’ health.

But the biggest overall focus in this difficult economic environment seemed to be expected price-cuts and the overall pricing strategy. Specifically, whether the lowest-end MacBook would go below $1,000, or even down to $899.

While the latter hope didn’t materialize, the most entry level "old" MacBook (in white) was indeed lowered to $999, but not the new line of anodized aluminum housing, all-around-upgraded MacBooks. However, you shouldn’t underestimate what Apple has done here:

1) They have now "Air-ized" (after the aluminum housing of the ground-breaking MacBook Air) the entire MacBook/MacBook Pro line except for the close-out model "MacBook White". As Steve Jobs said, they should see some cost reductions from ramping up the novel unibody aluminum frame production in the next few quarters. So taking the entry-level Alu MacBook to $999 might happen sooner than some think.

2) While the cost for the new entry-level MacBooks for now has been kept at $1299, there is a lot of new technology that got pumped into it: iPod Touch multi-touch glass touchpad, led-backlit screen and longer battery life from the MacBook Air, a high-end graphics accelerator, etc. etc. So they’re establishing it as the "must-have-this-thing" item FIRST, in line with their branding as "The Creator/Innovator" archetype among other things, plus their high-end image.

3) The new MacBook line thereby becomes "aspirational", so that even if you can’t afford one right now, you still know you want one (if you were ever open to it at all). Then, when the prices get dropped further (see the iPhone price point development), everyone will think it’s a bargain by comparison.

But to do this you have to first credibly build it up at the higher price levels. I would NEVER expect Apple to forgo their brand equity and introduce brand new technology PLUS lower prices for that new technology at the same time.

With a consumer recession already going on or imminent, the 60+% of people who are truly affected by affordability aren’t Apple’s primary target market. AND they would be likely to delay purchase of ANYTHING right now regardless of price point (ask yourself if they all would buy the new aluminum MacBooks at $999 this instant – I doubt it).

Apple doesn’t need to be in the $400-700 notebook market for now, and if they want to be down the road, it is still advantageous for them to have established the higher price point value proposition. The price "anchor" this creates in the consumer’s mind is worth the somewhat reduced volume now. Then when you "drop in" the price cut at the point of maximum desirability (again, as was done with the iPhone), you are likely to create a feeding frenzy.