As a marketer, I should be in love with Apple. After all, I have an iPod and a Mac at home – and Apple’s marketing success offers lessons for anyone wanting a great case study on how to position products, launch them into the market, and use distinctive product design to connect with consumers. Getting underneath this polished exterior of brilliant products, however, the culture and identity of Apple leaves much to be desired in my opinion. They are notoriously closed, have rarely embraced any of the potential of social media — very few blogging employees or podcasting (apart from Job’s product launch presentations), and a corporate policy discouraging active participation in the many Apple communities online. None of these are new complaints, but the one that seemed to be picking up steam in the early part of this year was criticism of Apple’s obstructive DRM policies governing music or movies purchased from iTunes. In response, Steve Jobs recently created waves in the music industry by publishing an essay where he defends Apple’s stance on Digital Rights Management for music by outlining how the big 4 music studios have forced Apple into this situation and that it could be solved if only these big labels would allow Apple to sell DRM-free music. It was reading that essay that inspired this post. At the risk of sparking disagreement with many readers of this blog who are loyal Apple fans – here are my three big reasons why I am not an Apple enthusiast:
- Aside from Product Design, Money Comes First: There is a very customer-centric approach to product design from Apple, but when it comes to marketing products – moneymaking seems to come first. iPods configured for a Mac cannot be used on PCs until they are reformatted. You no longer get a power charger with an iPod – that must be purchased separately. The Green my Apple campaign is a great collective example of all the policies that Apple has which are anti-green. Ironically launched by a group of admitted Apple enthusiasts, the website does a great job of breaking down the popular myth that Apple is a green environmentally-friendly company. A quick visit to their site shows many areas where Apple is far behind PC manufacturers and many other companies. It is a perfect example of some truths about Apple well hidden by smart marketing.
- Two Sided Approach to DRM – Despite Jobs recent effort to deflect criticism of Apple’s DRM policies to the movie studios, the current situation works in Apple’s favor. Most content that is purchased on iTunes can never be used on any other device, or moved out of the iTunes. Even if all music is opened up, the situation would still remain with movies and TV shows sold on iTunes. Each offers the same controls and it was recently reported that the sole movie studio holdout for offering films through Netflix’s impressive new video download service, as well as Walmart’s collection is the Disney collection. The reason? Most point to Disney’s ties with Jobs and the studio’s dedication to iTunes as the key barrier. Even as Jobs asks for music studios to allow open access to their content, he is contributing to Disney preventing the same access to movies controlled by their studio for Netflix and Walmart. That seems wrong.
- Spoiled Brat Reputation for Business – As the recent iPhone case showed, as well as the brilliant VH1 satire ads of the "I’m a Mac" campaign pointed towards … Apple does have a bit of a reputation among tech companies as the spoiled brat that always wants what it wants regardless of rules or laws. They wanted the iPhone name, so they took it. They notoriously control marketing and PR – not letting any partners speak about any initiatives unless they allow it. The "green fees" for working with Apple are very high, as any reseller, vendor or supplier would tell you. It is like negotiating with a child, and often seems like a necessary evil for doing business with Apple.
At the end of the day, Apple has an admirable marketing machine and great product design – which has fostered lots of Apple devotees. I understand that, and admire how they got there. My criticisms are not likely to have much of an impact, and I may be alone in these views judging from my many marketing and blogging peers to seem to be big Apple devotees. But for me – until any of these big three issues change, Apple will continue to be a company whose products I use on occasion, but whose brand I just can’t get passionate about.
Comment Spam Update (02/23/07): Apologies to all those who tried to post comments but got the comment spam warning. It turns out I added "MP3" to my blocked word list due to a load of spam about free MP3 sites I had gotten several months ago. I have removed the word from the blocked list and this should allow you to make it past the filter. Let me know if you are still having problems posting a comment.
Update (5/2/07): Steve Jobs has published an open letter about Apple’s new green policies addressing some of the criticism and laying out changes for the future and steps Apple is committed to taking to become more green (and Greenpeace takes credit).
Update (7/5/07): Engadget just published a story about Apple’s history of taking what they want and "ripping off artists" in their marketing and advertising. Apparently this is a trend that did not start with their grabbing of the iPhone name outlined in point #3 above …