August 15, 2013

The Signature

The Loop > Magazine > Issue 8

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By Matt Dusenbury

“This is it,” whispers the narrator, as the camera settles on a woman slowly swaying back and forth on a crowded subway car. She is totally enveloped by the music being piped in from her EarPod headphones. She is alone in a crowd and in love. When her soft figure fades away, we’re greeted by a room full of schoolchildren eagerly swiping away on iPads, searching for the answer to a teacher’s question.

“This is what matters.”

With the new “Designed by Apple in California” ad campaign, Apple’s marketing approach takes a markedly different tone compared to the unforgettable Switch or “There’s an app for that” campaigns of the past, and with good reason. Unlike the campaigns that came before, these ads are not determined to move product. Rather, this campaign is one of grand vision.

The Designed by Apple in California campaign is a strategic maneuver meant to defend Apple, combating criticism on two fronts while simultaneously clearing inroads on a third. In one deft move, the campaign acts as a response to (1) the negative public perception stemming from recent tax concerns brought to light by the U.S. government and (2) competitors’ attacks on Apple’s products. At the same time, the campaign acts as an offensive measure, one that aims to establish Apple Inc. as a model not only for American ingenuity with its “Made in the U.S.A.”-style rhetoric, but also for the networked society that fascinates Americans, thanks to their fondness for iPhones and iPads. With the new Signature ads, Apple is trying to sell something much more abstract—its position as the cornerstone of quintessential digital Americana in the 21st century. It is a campaign both defiant and sentimental, presenting a quiet strength through its softness, and of a style sure to continue as Apple pushes deeper into the psyche of an increasingly wired public.

All of this is a lot to ask from one 60-second spot and a few newspaper ads, but it is a necessary undertaking if Apple is to maintain its status as a cultural icon. The Signature ads could be the silver bullet that cures all of Apple’s ills. But before gauging their efficacy, you need to understand the climate currently enveloping the company.

When Tim Cook and other Apple executives appeared in front of Congress at the end of May to answer questions about the company’s unsavory, though not strictly speaking illegal tax practices, Apple unwittingly became a symbol for corporate greed. As Nelson D. Schwartz and Charles Duhigg of The New York Times wrote:

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