Apple detractors often like to say that Apple’s popularity is the result of sexy and persuasive advertising that creates an unjustified aura of “coolness” around their products. Moreover, these detractors argue that Apple initiated hype is the driving force behind their success, never mind a solid track record of delivering thoughtfully designed and well-engineered products.
The truth is that the vast majority of hype surrounding Apple and their products is rooted in the tireless efforts of Apple’s legion of devoted users. Call them fanboys if you must, but Apple’s cachet of “cool” comes from the ground up, from the mass of users who still harbor fond memories of their first Apple product. In short, Apple doesn’t need to generate hype because it has millions of consumers who serve as free sounding boards for the company.
The iPad launch, though, was different. In addition to the expected cadre of tech reviews and news segments, Apple used the 3-4 days before launch day to roll out an impressive media marketing blitz that saw the iPad pop up all over the place.
News wise, early reviews of the iPad began to trickle in on Wednesday afternoon with the usual suspects (Mossberg, Pogue, Inhatko) offering glowing reviews of Apple’s latest device. But in an interesting twist, Apple also lent out review units of the iPad to outlets that don’t typically receive pre-releases from Cupertino, such as BoingBoing and PC Mag. Okay, so maybe that’s not really a “twist” per say, but Apple clearly wanted to get the iPad out to more media outlets than usual, a fact which underscores just how important a successful launch was to Apple.
Media wise, things got off to a rousing start with a clever and strategic piece of product placement on the ABC hit show “Modern Family.” A large portion of the plot revolved around the father, Phil Dunphy, desperately wanting an iPad and his family’s bumbling attempts to actually land him one. And lest there be any confusion, the episode went full force in its description of the device, with the following exchange taking place early in the episode.
Phil: “The iPad comes out on my actual birthday. It’s like Steve Jobs and God got together to say, ‘We love you, Phil.'”
Claire: “What’s so great about that doo-hickey, anyhow?”
Phil: “Doo-hickey, Ellie May? It’s a movie theater, a library, and a music store all rolled into one awesome… pad.”
The iPad-centric episode of “Modern Family” was a homerun for many reasons. First, it’s a smartly written show that attracts a more desirable demographic of users than, say, Microsoft’s attempt to push Windows 7 via Family Guy. Second, and more importantly, the product placement on Modern Family was seamless to the extent that the plot not only made sense from the vantage point of the father, but that it fit perfectly into the spirit of the show as well. That being the case, Apple was able to get one of the more popular television shows on the air to paint the iPad as a cool device that you just have to have without making the audience feel that they were having an ad forced down their throats.
And for that, you have to give props to Apple’s ad team for recognizing the existent chemistry between a show like Modern Family and the iPad. Driving the point home, imagine how out of place Apple’s product placement would have been if they had Jim’s character from The Office going nuts trying to get an iPad. It just doesn’t work.
While many think Apple pays for prominent product placement, that’s not usually, if ever, the case. Typically, Apple gives out Apple hardware to popular television shows for free in exchange for subtle product placement. But how does that explain Apple’s tour de force iPad plot on Modern Family? Well, bear in mind that ABC is owned and operated by Disney. And oh yeah, a guy by the name of Steve Jobs not only sits on the board of directors at Disney, but is also their single largest individual stockholder. It pays to have friends in high places… especially if that friend is you.
But Wednesday was just the beginning of Apple’s TV blitz. On Thursday evening, the ever popular Steven Colbert showcased an iPad and used it to cut up salsa, while also saving time to make a funny joke about poor iPhone reception and the sad fact that, as opposed to Apple, Amazon has to pay for Kindle coverage.
Funnyman (and I use the term loosely here) David Letterman also got in on the iPad action this past Thursday when he devoted an entire Top 10 list to the iPad titled, “Top 10 question to ask yourself before waiting in line for the iPad.” You can check out that gem below.
But last week wasn’t just about TV for the iPad.
On Thursday morning April 1, it was reported that Steve Jobs would grace the cover of the upcoming issue of Time Magazine. And just in case Jobs’ mug wasn’t enough to attract reader attention, Apple ensured a ton of press coverage due to a rare interview Stephen Fry was allowed to conduct with Jobs for a piece profiling both Jobs and the upcoming iPad. There’s no denying that Apple is bigger than Steve Jobs, but Jobs himself remains an icon that attracts eyeballs and attention wherever he goes. Jobs and Apple are aware of this, and as they did with Time, will use that to their advantage.
Next up, former SNL vet Jimmy Fallon and Engadget editor Joshua Topolsky played with an iPad on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on Friday night, the day before launch.
Now take all of the above and wrap it up with an endless amount of media coverage from national and local news outlets and it was hard to go anywhere without being inundated with iPad related media coverage.
With a new Apple product, you can usually expect to see some new commercials and maybe a Steve Jobs interview on CNBC, but the iPad push last week was unprecedented for a new Apple product. Apple’s iPad marketing blitz was overt, in your face, and luckily for Apple, it all worked. They picked their spots well, hit all the major nerve centers of information and entertainment, and used that to sell 300,000 iPads on Saturday alone.