In what could foreshadow a sharp change in its online marketing strategy, Apple will work with four new digital advertising agencies, Ad Age reported earlier this year.
The move could be huge: Successful though its campaigns are, Apple has been a very traditional, almost old-fashioned, user of ad media so far.
The four agencies — Huge, AKQA, Kettle, and Area 17 — were all founded in the internet age and specialize more in online design than they do the traditional print and television advertising that is the bread and butter of Apple’s primary agency partner, TBWA.
E-mails made public by Apple’s patent lawsuit against Samsung indicated the iPhone maker’s relationship with longtime ad agency TBWA, which dates back to 1977, is no longer the lovefest it was during the Steve Jobs era.
While Apple has always used other agencies to supplement TBWA’s digital advertising work, the addition of agencies like Huge and AKQA to its roster indicates a desire to start offering consumers more opt-in, digital experiences, as opposed to interrupting their online browsing with advertising.
To date, Apple’s online advertising has mostly transposed to the web the sort of work it ran in print and on television. In most of its online work, a user is looking at website he or she enjoys and is then shown a richly detailed banner ad that, when scrolled on, might open up to become a high-quality video ad.
While the ads are always remarkably well produced and often very pretty, they conform to the idea of advertising as it has been conceived since the Mad Men days: marketers pay a publication or TV station to rent their audience and then use the real estate to communicate the best possible message in the brief spell they have consumers’ attention.
Huge and AKQA, the two biggest of Apple’s new partners, take a vastly different approach.
AKQA’s chief creative officer Rei Inamoto, for instance, is of the belief that the best advertising isn’t advertising at all. Instead, his firm attempts to create something on behalf of a brand that a consumer actively wants to play with.
For instance, the agency made Heineken a viewing companion app for soccer fans watching the UEFA Champions League tournament. The app awarded people points every time they predicted what would happen next in the soccer match they were watching live, and allowed them to compete with their friends via social media.
While the appeal was similar to the thrill people get from betting on sports, Heineken was able to convince soccer fans to spend hours in a digital environment that had its logo and colors plastered all over the place.
In Huge, Apple has chosen an almost natural partner that mirrors its focus on sleek design and “radical ease-of-use.”
Huge is the firm that designed the HBO GO on-demand television app, and it turned New York City’s frightening labyrinth of a website (seen here in 2012) into something city dwellers could actually use to get the information they need.
The addition of Huge also provides another hint that Apple might be coming around on the value of social media, an area it has long poo-pooed, but which rival Samsung has recently used to generate free publicity through Twitter posts by endorsers Ellen DeGeneres and David Ortiz.
In March, Apple dipped its big toe into the social media waters with an interactive, video-laden Tumblr page to promote the iPhone 5c.
That project was made by TBWA, but it stands to reason that Apple could look to expand its social media footprint with Huge, an agency that has executed Twitter campaigns for Cap’n Crunch and done Snapchat work for Audi.
All in all, it looks like Apple is working to implement a digital marketing strategy that replicates the qualities that made its retail stores such a success: cutting-edge design, consumer interaction, and easy-to-use products people can’t help but want to play with.
And in doing so, Apple may finally pull its marketing strategies out of the “Mad Men” era and into the 21st Century.