Apple’s new iPhone ad departs from some of their oldest and most inspiring advertising by making fun of what customers do.
I’m curious what people make of the new iPhone 6S ad from Apple, the comedy one called “Onions”. On the surface, it looks like another one of the fun, irreverent ads that have been made for the 6S series so far — the previous ones leaned heavily on their sassy, self-reflexive voiceovers by the actress Lake Bell. It only has a brief product demo lasting about 3 seconds, followed by nearly a minute of story; it has a celebrity appearance; some humor; and a quirky sign-off that says “Onions on iPhone 6S” before “Onions” becomes “4K Video”.
While I enjoyed it, I think it perverts one of the unspoken rules that have made past Apple ads great. The people in those ads were always more creative, more talented, doing better work, and living fuller lives than the average viewer. But the ads seemed to believe that you were that person, and always spoke up to you. In other words, they assumed the best of their customers.
That’s just a company that knows how to utilize aspiration. You see it in fashion advertising, but you’re either model material or you’re not. When it comes to products that let anyone create, the dream is ever alive!
“Onions” takes a different tone. It’s a somewhat sarcastic, belittling parody that pokes fun at what its protagonist shoots, pretending to have a bit of fun with exaggeration. It says, “this is what YOU will probably make with the power of a 4K movie camera in your pocket, and this is what you probably think it’s worth: an award presented by Neil Patrick Harris. So, please enjoy your comical fantasy!”. Instead of showing an example of great accomplishment, as was the tradition, it goes for the cheap laugh. It fails at showing us something we should aspire to achieve with an iPhone 6S of our own. It’s an odd departure from a winning formula that has long defined the brand’s outlook on technology enabling creativity, and I hope not to see many more like it.
The waterproofing ad that worked better? A script that meanders about how water is everywhere on earth, making up 72% of our bodies, etc. etc. before ending on a scene where a phone gets dropped into a fountain while taking a photo. The owner picks it back up, and continues getting the shot, no beats missed. Anecdotally, lots of phones have been dropped into water by people I know, and I think this crucial point would resonate with them. A relatable real life moment, real people, and a real problem we’d love to suddenly go away overnight.
One of the immutable truths of living in Singapore and reading our national broadsheet, The Straits Times, is that your Saturday morning news will be interrupted by three large and distinctly color-coded blocks of full-page advertising taken out by the major telcos: red for Singtel, green for StarHub, and orange for M1.
In the late 90s, the brands advertised consisted mainly of Nokia, Motorola, Alcatel, Sony-Ericsson, with a few models from minor players like Sharp, HTC, and Panasonic. You’ve probably recognized the ones still around. Apart from a few new entrants like Apple, Samsung, and LG, the Saturday ad landscape was quite stable for over a decade.
Something started happening this year, around the time Xiaomi launched local operations — their first market outside of the Chinese territories. New brands have started to share space alongside the established premium brands. Oppo/OnePlus. Huawei. Asus. ZTE. All very competitive spec for spec, dollar for dollar.
It’s significant that these Chinese-designed products now share equal space with the Samsungs and LGs in expensive telco media buys, in one of the world’s most saturated and advanced smartphone markets.1 There are similar products coming out of other Asian countries2, but the Chinese brands have far more visibility here.
I won’t go into how Xiaomi employs a differentiated, social media-driven sales model, but I will say that they got a lot of positive press at the start, driving home the idea that they offered comparable quality and reliability at a fraction of the cost. But they’ve been the only ones to get such an image in the mainstream mind, to my knowledge.
The rest are coming into town aggressively — Oppo opened a flagship store at Suntec City, a central mall, and I swear I’ve seen a Huawei store along Orchard Road — but their cachet seems strongest amongst the small group of tech and Android enthusiasts attracted to low-cost, high-value devices, which are replaced frequently.3 These are not mass market items yet, and I wonder when their moment will come, if at all.
What interests me is why the telcos are throwing their weight behind these entrants. Are they a bargaining chip to negotiate better hardware prices with the others, regardless of sales? Or do the postpaid 4 margins on selling already-cheap Chinese phones to consumers just look that much better? Or could it be driven by actual market demand?
My leading theory is that it’s simply a reactionary move that doesn’t consider the longer-term effects of promoting these price-disruptive products. Why? Because telcos are instinctively programmed to serve products at every available price point.
But the low price, contract-free nature of how consumers can otherwise obtain these devices is a threat to the lucrative business of locking people into contracts. Including such devices alongside premium devices in weekly advertising validates them. In the past, doing the same with a $50 Alcatel featurephone and a $500 Nokia “multimedia computer” was apples and oranges. Now, the products at both price points are much more similar, and one of them doesn’t need to be paid off in monthly installments. Legitimising cheaper smartphones inspires potential postpaid customers to simply buy a contract-free phone online (or pick one up in a store), and then save with a prepaid mobile line instead. At least that explains why Oppo is paying downtown rent on a flagship store. The telco strategy, though, that isn’t so clear.
As of January 2014, Singapore had 87% smartphone penetration, with 29% of people owning more than one device. Anecdotally, the vast majority are on subsidized/contracted premium devices: iPhones, Galaxy S and Note models, etc. ↩
I think of this one friend as an edge case, but it’d be interesting if there were more like her: a former iPhone user, she found herself too clumsy to trust with expensive phones (they were smashed, stolen, or fell into toilets), and now uses Xiaomis because they are pretty much disposable at around USD$140 a pop. ↩
Singapore has a bit in common with the U.S. phone market, in that only a minority pay full price or even know what the actual prices of their phones are. Everyone else pays a smaller sum upfront, with the rest of the device cost bundled into monthly fees. Some of the new Chinese phones are free/virtually free at their subsidized prices, but so are older iPhones and Samsungs, and it’s hard to see the price advantage lasting. For any brand that doesn’t enjoy the recognition of a Xiaomi, that window may close when current large-screened iPhones get priced down. ↩
Choi has created a prototype for a printer called “Mink” that will let users choose any color imaginable and then print out makeup in that exact same hue (at this point, she’s only done demonstrations with blush). By allowing people to skip the expensive department store prices to make the perfectly colored products themselves, Mink could completely revolutionize the makeup industry.
She’s being deceptively conservative when she says this product would be targeted at teenaged girls; it has far larger implications for the beauty industry.
If every shade and the chemically simple products that allow people to sport them are fully open and commoditized, and large brands have few qualities to offer beyond “packaging”, and the customer knows it, what will happen? Will advertising continue to be able to sustain them by selling a lifestyle, or will the images of beauty grow wider in scope and fragment as new tastemakers emerge from online communities, e.g. YouTube stars? Sure they exist now, but the collapse of beauty brands as a chief influence for consumers would create a vacuum for new ideas to take hold.
What happens in societies where billions of advertising dollars currently spent by a few large entities, to push narrowly defined images of beauty, just evaporates?
Lots of portfolio tools advertise the ability to create a gorgeous website online within minutes, but how many are suited to showcasing a copywriter’s work? This post covers getting a basic presence up for a handful of your projects. More comprehensive site builders are only briefly mentioned.
It’s often said that people only look into their CVs between jobs, but taking stock of what you’ve accomplished on a regular basis is a really good practice. But with a standard resumé, updating a paragraph about your current employment several times a year isn’t attractive. Fortunately for people in the creative industries, there’s the portfolio, which can be very satisfying to compile, if only to remind ourselves how little victories on a project tend to make up a bigger result.
Not Your Creative Director’s Portfolio
Over the last few years, I’ve seen a fair few creative portfolios, and increasingly, when one asks to see some work, a URL gets sent instead of a PDF. When I was starting out in advertising about 8 years ago, we routinely brought physical folders of printouts to interviews. If you wanted the job, you might make an extra copy to leave behind. If you’ve heard some creatives calling their folios “books”, it’s because that’s what they really were.
Another thing that’s changed since the mid-noughties is how the presentation of a copywriter’s work has gone from showing a few ads and/or documents with long-form writing samples, to being very close to how the art guys do it. Big, colorful pictures that would reel even an illiterate eye in. Some writers’ books now haven’t got a word in them.
Most of the people I’ve met showed off work on portfolio cum social networking sites for creatives. Places with start-uppy Web 2.x names like Carbonmade, Krop, the Behance Network, Cargo, Coroflot, and to some extent, Dribbble. Some respectable, shirt-wearing creatives had portfolio sites on their own domains, and the ones who didn’t return their pencils used blogging services like Tumblr.
What I’ve noticed is that very few of these solutions are suited to the needs of creatives who self-identify as copywriters.
Copywriters Are A Needy Bunch
Designers, illustrators, and art directors are well served by the many visual portfolio tools out there. Flip through a few examples and you’ll notice a tendency to not explain the images — when it comes to showing off craft, the work often speaks for itself. Maybe it’s because most tools just don’t allow text at all, but I’ll come to that later.
I think a writer needs a little room to take his viewer through the work. So much of what we do is problem solving and just not visible in the finished consumer-facing work (nor should it be). Some of the things a writer could supply to complement a piece of work are: some background info, a project or team story, the strategic line between proposition and product, an elucidation of the idea (if one exists), how the piece works with a wider campaign or positioning that the brand has pursued, and any measured results that came out of it. Touching on just a little of the above, versus a caption reading “Banner Execution #2” on a photo of a toothpaste tube telling a joke, can help explain yourself come Judgement Day.
Five Steps to Happier Portfolioing
The more I saw, the more I started to wonder, where should a copywriter put their work online? To answer that question, I signed up for a bunch and put them through their paces, and also asked colleagues and industry friends for their (possibly subjective) opinions on the leading ones. Here’s what I know, filtered through what I didn’t like.
1. Keep Good Company
Maybe this won’t apply where you are, but Cargo (or CargoCollective) ostensibly carries a reputation for being full of student work. I don’t know where that comes from; too many cans of Heinz baked beans styled like Warhol prints? That said, there’s probably nothing wrong with using Cargo if you ARE a student. Coroflot seems to be another good place for junior creatives to get their work in front of recruiters and large brands. DeviantArt was ranked below the two, because your application will disappear into an HR drawer labeled ‘Slashfic Writers’.
For professionalism, I was advised to try Krop. It charges a not-insignificant monthly price of US$10, in the league of premium site-building services like Squarespace. I didn’t see anything that justified the price against Krop’s drawbacks. Amongst those I asked, Behance enjoys a neutral to positive reputation that will not stand in the way of your looking righteous.
As far as domains and URLs are concerned, it’s also about the right associations. If you’re on a site built for creative work, then piggybacking on their domain isn’t an issue. For example, having “behance.net/name” is okay, but “name.tumblr.com” looks like a collection of meme gifs. Using a “name.com” is great as long it’s not the “best-name-online.com” that GoDaddy recommends when your name of choice is taken.
2. Know the Tools You’ll Need
Plenty of sites simply don’t let you annotate or supply a paragraph of text beside your large and beautiful images. It’s practically textist. Krop is a major offender. And since we’re talking your garden-variety copywriter here, and not those mystical hybrid writer-designers who can tastefully superimpose text within their images, an ideal tool would allow writers to enter text on the page itself. In that regard, Behance trumps Krop, which only allows a short caption for each image. Not only is Behance free, it allows the mixing of as many images, embedded videos, and text blocks on a project page as needed.
Most importantly, if you’re going to be uploading work where you’re especially proud of the writing, make sure it can be read! Being able to click and zoom in (or load the original image) is table stakes, but plenty of sites I’ve seen don’t do it. This is the point where your portfolio’s tab gets closed and your reader goes back to a ‘Hunger Games Wedding Ideas’ board on Pinterest.
For this reason, I do not recommend using ‘free’ services that reserve this ability for paying customers, e.g. Carbonmade. Behance won’t zoom either, but you can at least reproduce your copy on the page using a text block.
3. Create a Gallery, Not a Blog
When a portfolio site is built on a blogging CMS, and looks like a linear blog, expectations are set for a diary of constantly evolving works-in-progress. Visitors will be less impressed by your last post being 18 months old, even if it was ahead of its time.
Of the sites I’ve seen built on simplistic platforms like Posterous, Tumblr, Blogger, Pinterest (you gotta see this Hunger Games wedding), too few employ themes with a static front page serving as a table of contents. If your platform of choice doesn’t let you do that, find a new one. A scrolling page of entries without proper navigation is counterintuitive to your purpose: showing your recent work at a glance, and putting more details one click away.
Some sites will also format and present a version of your resumé in addition to your portfolio. Behance and Coroflot are two that stood out for me.
4. Decide If You Want Feedback with That
Socially enabled sites like Behance are proud of their communities. You can follow people doing interesting work, and browse a stream of their recent work right from your front page. Gold stars, comments, resharing; all that stuff. But there’s a real need for portfolios that don’t talk back, and if you’re familiar with the teen movie trope of parents embarrassing their sons with baby stories whenever a girl comes over, you’ll understand not letting a potential mentor or employer see the “helpful” suggestions you’ve been given by others. Or your witty mom-centric replies.
Moreover, as we’ve already covered, many of these sites are for designers and not copywriters. I’ve heard this sentiment several times: “Designers have Dribbble, but where do copywriters go to share their work and get constructive feedback from peers?” It’s a gap that no one has filled. Until then, my advice would be to keep the two as separate as you can. Find an avenue for copy feedback that works for you, and display your work on a pedestal where it belongs.
5. Keep Open Secrets
Another feature that’s rather important but not always available: the ability to secure projects with a password. Some client work can never be fully public, but if there’s a story in there worth telling, you might open it up to select viewers. Please don’t set your password to “password” or your first name, or have no password at all and instruct the HR person to ‘just press Enter’, because that just makes it look like passwords are a new concept to you.
Choose Your Own Ad Venture
The first conclusion I drew is that you’ll want to spend some money to get this right, although it doesn’t have to be a lot. Whatever your choice, make sure it looks good on mobile devices and doesn’t rely on Flash.
My preferred solution has always been to create pages on a personal site, using whatever CMS you’re comfortable with, but that involves a fair amount of set-up and manual work. In contrast, the allure of these modern portfolio services is undeniable. Most come with the promise of page views from fellow creatives baked in, and who doesn’t like getting ‘Liked’? The drag-and-drop features and professionally designed templates are also particularly good for copywriters. Uploading a bunch of comps and artwork almost always results in a presentable page.
Of all these services I evaluated, the only free one that would meet the needs outlined was Behance. Their paid option is called ProSite, but its fancy templates frustratingly strip away the extra text that makes their free pages compelling for writers. If that gets fixed, it would be a complete winner.
If you’re willing to get your hands a little dirty, then Squarespace, Breezi, Virb, and WordPress are sound bets. The first two have no free options and start at around $8/mo for a standards-compliant, responsive design site. With templates as starting points and pixel-level control over every detail, they are suited to people with knowledge of web design but who don’t want to code.
Virb is another all-in-one hosted site & blog solution that costs the same as Krop ($10/mo) but lets you do more. There are templates that let you bundle images and text together quite simply and beautifully.
The open-source WordPress.org software is pretty much the gold standard for consumer CMS on the web, and if you don’t want the hassle of installing it on your own servers, WordPress.com has an ad-supported “hosted service” that takes care of everything for you, with few compromises. A number of portfolio-ready themes are available, but do pay for the domain mapping upgrade, because “name.wordpress.com” looks almost as bad as it would if it said Tumblr. Almost.
If you’ve seen the Tokyo Metro company’s recent “Please Do It At Home” campaign, it might interest you to know that they’ve been at the batshit-crazy poster game since the 1970s. Click through for illustrations of considerate trainfaring starring Superman, Hitler, Catholic nuns, and Astro Boy.
4Chan, the anonymous nihilist obscene messageboard from whence sprang memes like LOLCats and RickRolling, was the subject of what’s now the 3rd most-watched of the Old Spice videos made yesterday, after the ones made for Perez Hilton and Kevin Rose. 4channers hate everything, especially people who talk about 4chan – which this savvy man in a towel did not do. But 200,000 views later, that absurd video response to “Anonymous” has received more than 4000 thumbs up from viewers and less than 100 thumbs down.
Still going strong, and inferring from a tweet I saw in @IsaiahMustafa’s stream, they’ll be doing this till Thursday in the US. Funny that he’s using Chuck Norris for his Twitter wallpaper – Old Spice Man has eclipsed that legend by now.
The guys behind the new Old Spice commercials showed a good understanding of social media before when they spread their ads virally online, but yesterday they pretty much won the game. Getting Isaiah Mustafa to come back into the studio with nothing but his bare chest and a towel, they started producing video responses to fans on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube. Over a hundred personalized responses in all. Some were replies to counter-replies, so we can see that these were being written/performed on the fly to some degree. It is a very high standard to be achieving on the fly, both as writing and performance.
I posted these four ads on Twitter earlier, calling them a cut above Apple’s recent advertising; each one a force of emotion. It strikes me now that these ads are so natural, so well conceived and performed, that they’re more moving than scenes several times their length in Hollywood film. In any case, they are a refreshing change from disembodied hands and players introducing themselves as metaphors for machines.
What’s remarkable about Apple’s advertising is how they have come to accurately reflect the brand’s approach. It’s a lot rarer than you’d think, and most communications from large companies with offices in multiple countries inevitably veer into “off-brand” territory. Just as the modern Mac and iPhone are familiar tools whittled down to their purest forms – no extraneous buttons or indicator lights, solid blocks of CNC-machined material, and straightforward “naturalistic” user interfaces – the modern Apple ad is simple, uncluttered, and devoid of transitions and flashy effects.
They keep the basics: a story, a product, and a pay-off. These iPhone 4 ads all have the same straightforward presentation, an over-the-shoulder shot of someone having a FaceTime conversation, and yet they look like no other ads on TV. You’d recognize the next one in a heartbeat. They’ve taken out everything that could be a distraction, and there’s nothing you could add to make them better. That’s good work, and the craftsmanship is impeccable. I imagine being on the Apple account at TBWA\Chiat\Day is like being an honorary Apple employee.
These commercials for the Palm Pre smartphone have been given largely negative reviews, with most reactions going something like “WTF”, “that girl is so creepy/ugly”, and “show more features of the phone!”
Of course, I’m posting them here because I disagree. I’m not saying it’s the most effective route Palm could have chosen, but when you’re putting out a new line of devices in a crowded playing field where one competitor dominates mindshare, and everyone else puts out ads highlighting a long list of techie features or superficial accoutrements, you need to do something bold.
These are branding ads. These are look at me and remember me ads. The worst examples of these leave viewers angry, cursing the fact that they spent energy being annoyed. Nevertheless, the images remain with them. For me, these ads are a thing of queer beauty. They’re a little creepy, yes. But they are well written, and they are different. Some of them are a little too hippie, with their New Age songs and talk of reincarnation, but such missteps are redeemed by the genius that chose such shots as the one where she turns her back on the camera twice, and the ethereal, painting-like scenes that flow behind her. I also think they were drawing inspiration from Max Headroom, and one can’t go wrong with that.
I’ve read that Palm and their US partner Sprint are running other ads in support of the Pre. Those purportedly target other demographics, while I believe these are tremendously appealing to those who don’t have strong feelings about technology. The kind of people who need a phone for business, and right now it’s a Blackberry or a very old basic phone. These aren’t the only tools in their campaign. TV ads don’t need to contain all the facts. Watch one of these, and you get the idea of what being connected, multitasking, and having GPS can do for your life, without a single bullet-point having to appear on screen.
The last and latest one, Mind Reader, is my favorite. It’s a poem to technology, read with confidence. Her final line, “Of course it does, it’s mine”, is a powerful sentiment that every geek can understand. My iPhone certainly knows me well, between the data I store on it, the connections it helps me make, and the choices that go into each of its nine pages of apps.
I went to have a look at the new ION Orchard shopping mall on Tuesday, its first official day of being open. I’ve talked about it resembling the Bullring mall in Birmingham, UK before, from its sprawling promenade flanked by two-storey shopfronts to the curved sides of the building. The same architectural firm designed both, although I think they did a much better job with the Bullring. The ION’s curves are too slight, giving the whole building a strange form not unlike a dented pillow – I know for a fact they were hoping to elicit words like “organic” from onlookers. Not quite, in my opinion.
The interior layout of the four above-ground shopping levels also resembles that of the Bullring’s central arcade, which is a good thing. It’s easy to see where you’re going and where you’ve been because the shops don’t occupy fixed boxes of space, which gives them more identity, and better spatial recognition for shoppers. The roof design does a good job of letting in lots of natural light in the day, which, along with the use of predominantly white surfaces throughout and contrasting angular/curved elements like escalators and pillars, gives the whole affair a look of modernity that should last a decade, at least.
Basements 1 & 2 were a little darker, although that may change when all shops are open (currently about 70% are). The walkways are also narrower, which will probably cause some congestion problems. I was afraid, on the way down, that four similar basement levels were going to feel quite oppressive, but B3 & B4 smartly mixed things up with a different layout and more open space.
High points were the ThreeSixty Marketplace (link to another blog), with loads of imported food products that you’ve probably wanted but could never find locally before; a Korean gelato cafe that felt like it had been transplanted from some other country’s sidewalks; the return of the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise, which means good, cheap coffee and passable donuts for me; and a raft of new Japanese restaurants to try out. I’m downplaying it a little here. If you’d seen me there that day, it would be pretty clear that I love this place and am very excited to have it as a part of our landscape (physical facade notwithstanding) from now on.
I also want to mention the large Epicentre outlet (they are a third-party Apple retailer) directly across from a Nokia flagship store and a SingTel mobile shop. Epicentre makes a few mistakes now and then, but they largely play it safe and therefore well by following the design language of official Apple Stores around the world. That includes placing large, round tables with lots of flashing, animated iPods and iPhones near the front of the space, for passersby to play with. People are always standing around and fiddling with them.
When you walk into the Nokia store, you’re greeted by a small table with maybe four working phones (I went in to look at the N97 flagship model, and the one I picked up wasn’t functioning), and then a very long wall of all the phone models they currently offer. It would have been very impressive, had any of them been real and not a plastic dummy. Move over to the adjacent SingTel store and you’ll find the same thing in each of the dedicated brand zones. LG, Samsung, Sony-Ericsson… not a single REAL phone to be had. Getting customers into your store is half the work done, so why let it fall apart with a non-existent product experience? It’s one of the simplest things in retail and marketing, and you don’t appreciate how Apple does it right until you see others get it horribly wrong.
As much as I’d like to go back several more times now, I expect the ION Orchard to be a total mosh pit for the next few weeks. There’s probably going to be a massive ground effect that wrecks the whole of Orchard Road for anyone who needs to find parking too. So while everyone comes down to town this weekend for a glimpse at the new hotness, my plan is to go shopping in the heartlands. Maybe I’ll finally get a place in line for that other Uniqlo.