A brief study in Apple and advertising: minimalism doesn’t always work

Posted by on August 15th 2011 @ 8:24 pm

Apple’s brand feel can best be described as minimalistic. It’s a look that sets the brand apart from its competition, and for which it’s now widely recognized throughout the world. While many technology products are infamous for being complicated and indecipherable, Apple’s products stand alone for their simplicity and ease of use. Its unique design has proven potent. The company is growing at an unprecedented rate and dominating an industry whose very definition is “the future.”

Apple’s brand voice is also very distinctive—excited and inspirational, borderline-naively optimistic and enthused. The copy in its television and print ads mimic the diction of its autocratic leader’s keynote speeches. “Awesome.” “Incredible.” “Amazing.” “Revolutionary.” “Game-changing.” And other vague, normally-cliché-feeling adjectives.

But because Apple is a technology company whose new products are truly innovative (because they fill such an increasingly vital role in our lives, rapidly change the way we communicate with each other, alter the way we consume information on a daily basis, etc.), these normally-cliché-feeling adjectives instead feel appropriate. They work.

It was a risky decision to take this approach of tone, and it works because Apple’s products live up to these lofty claims. Maybe consumers will soon grow tired of this voice, lose a taste for it, begin to see it as dated and cheesy. But as of now, as iPhone and iPad sales continue to climb, Apple’s voice is as fresh and appealing as ever.

As would be expected after such success, other brands and start-up shops have looked to Apple’s marketing approach in an attempt to imitate it and ensure a brand perception that is similarly hip and smart and with-it. This annoys me. Apple’s voice works only because Apple, the business and its products and the user experience they provide, can back it up. Often, the brands that attempt to mimic Apple’s minimalistic feel and hyperbole-filled diction cannot.

One example is a small, start-up company that doesn’t deserve such negative attention. They are a green-minded, seriously healthy food company. Unfortunately, their branding decisions are a perfect example of a company and its products not being able to back up the Apple approach to advertising. The company is named Quinn Popcorn (www.quinpopcorn.com) and boasts the slogan “microwave popcorn reinvented,” a tagline that sounds very Apple-esque.

What warrants the adjective “re-invented”? Invention is the finding of something new, no matter whether that something is discovered or fabricated (Merriam-Webster). Is Quinn Popcorn’s microwavable popcorn really new?

Its specs include organic corn kernels and spice and non-GMO oils (an improvement from the commercially mainstream artificial, processed counterparts), and recycled, chemical-free paper materials. Again, these qualifications are admirable, responsible, but aren’t new to the point of invention.

The promotional video that Quinn Popcorn posts on its website is an obvious-derivative of Apple’s TV ad spots. Inspirational music played against a montage of similarly-inspirational camera shots (a cute, wide-eyed dog face, an expanse of green farmland). Blank white screens with simple black text. Casual and conversational personal testimonies (sprinkled with warming shots of laughing and smiling). Overly-emphatic adjectives that work when used to describe truly new technologies like the iPhone or iPad, but seem corny and bloated when used to describe details such as the composition of a popcorn bag or the uniqueness of cheesy flavors.

Quinn Popcorn is only one of many companies actively crafting their brand feel to mirror that modern minimalism of the world’s hottest brand. In my opinion, this trend is misled, the decision incorrect. Such Apple-inspired advertising doesn’t guarantee the brand “currentness” or “relevance.” As more and more brands follow this trend, the decision will more likely promise “blandness.”

Have you ever noticed that Apple’s advertisements and marketing strategy would be extremely boring and generic were it not for the products in those print ads and video clips?

Technology is by definition daunting—new and uncertain and complicated. Thus, Apple’s creative decisions in favor of simplicity and minimalism are so ingenious and appropriate. They help make graspable and approachable the confusing world of new working language and capabilities that these digital products bring with them. Not all products or companies are as significant.

Popcorn that is made with real ingredients, that are more natural and better for your body as a result, is not revolutionary. But it is a meaningful improvement and a story worth telling. Just don’t wrap it in the same simple skin and white, futuristic aura that Apple uses to pitch its much-more-revolutionary products.

Not every product is an invention. Not every business decision will “change everything.” That’s okay. They don’t have to in order to still create value and be meaningful.

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