With all the Olympic-themed ads that have been running during the London Summer Games, some might see the "Apple Genius" ads that debuted the first weekend of the games as a breath of fresh air. They featured a youthful employee who's been let loose from an Apple store's genius bar — still wearing his blue t-shirt and, whether it be on a plane, above, a street corner, or an apartment building, heroically ready to solve consumers' computer problems in the name of touting the brand's Mac line.
More often than not (under the watchful eye of an intensely involved Steve Jobs), Apple ads have always been considered a cut above the ordinary if not positively in a league of their own. Apple has always found a way to advertise a product with a good dose of humanity and a touch of humor. Witness the lauded "I'm a Mac" series from several years ago that brilliantly personified the differences between a Mac and a PC, and the current Siri campaign for the iPhone that feature celebrities including Zooey Deschanel, Samuel L. Jackson, John Malkovich and Martin Scorsese having intensely personal conversations with their iPhones.
But the recent "Genius" ad series was roundly bashed, by ad pundits who make it a point to scrutinize Apple ads, and also, apparently, by consumers. Jacquelyn Smith at Forbes noted that "People are decrying it as one of Apple's most disappointment campaigns of all time, dubbing it 'cheesy,' 'cringe-worthy,' 'intellectually cheap' and 'poorly executed.'"
Ken Segall, a former Apple creative who wrote the book Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success, weighed in on his blog: "Sure, Apple has had a low point or two in its advertising past — but its low points are usually higher than most advertisers' high points. This is different. These ads are causing a widespread gagging response, and deservedly so. I honestly can't remember a single Apple campaign that's been received so poorly." Ouch.
One could imagine Steve Jobs telling critics to stuff it — but a Jobs-less Apple may be reacting differently. According to Ad Age, "It's with a surprising swiftness that the recent batch of Apple TV ads — which, as we wrote last week, debuted on the Olympics to incredibly harsh backlash — appear to be done after just a couple of weeks on air. According to one executive familiar with the matter, the Genius Bar ads will no longer be running on TV."
One plausible explanation for the quick exit of the ads is that they were intentionally designed for a short viewing cycle, namely the Olympics. But it is rare for any advertiser, even Apple, to produce a series of three ads and pull them after an abbreviated run, even though a spokesperson for Apple's ad agency, TBWA/Media/Arts Lab, claimed they were intended for just the first weekend of the Olympics. Despite their absence on television, as of August 8, the "Genius" ads remain featured on the Mac product page on Apple's website, and they still can be viewed on YouTube.
This likely won't be the last time Apple takes heat for an ad campaign that doesn't live up to expectations. A world-class, high-profile brand like Apple is a lightning rod for criticism, and the visibility of big media buys like the Olympics makes the brand even more susceptible. In the short term, the "Genius" ads have certainly resulted in some blowback, but it is hard to believe they will have a lasting negative effect on Apple's brand image. In that regard, the current Apple-Samsung patent trial could be more problematic.
Apple's product excellence and strong sales should allow the brand to weather the storm — just as it has done it the past — as it goes back to basics with its latest commercial: a spot touting the retina display on the iPad.