Apple could fire longtime ad agency TBWA, look to Beats’ Jimmy Iovine to regain marketing mojo

By , Jul 14, 2014

Apple ad (Designed by Apple in California 001)

Gossip along Madison Avenue is growing more fluent about Apple tiring of its longtime ad agency TBWA Media Labs over a series of disappointing ads. The client-agency relationship is said to have deteriorated to the point where the iPhone maker ostensibly appears on the brink of putting its ad account up for a formal review and firing the ad agency after 30 years of fruitful collaboration.

The rumor arrives just as Apple has found itself under fire from Samsung, which aired the snarky ‘Wall Huggers’ ad last week to paint the iPhone users as mindless zombies who huddle around power outlets trying to charge up their devices.

The New York Post asserted Monday, without mentioning sources, that Apple and TBWA are at the break-up point. TBWA is a unit of Omnicom Group, the world’s largest advertising agency holding company. Apple, the story goes, also appears ready to look to music mogul Jimmy Iovine, now an Apple employee following the $3 billion Beats buy, to help it “regain its marketing mojo”

From the New York Post article:

Apparently, Schiller, who has been fending off criticism from even Apple board members, came close to firing TWBA over lame ads.

Tim Cook & Co. will reportedly look for creative input from Jimmy Iovine, the music mogul and producer who co-founded the Beats headphones business and the namesake music-streaming service along with Dr. Dre.

“Apple bought Beats for a lot of reasons,” said one new business executive at a top agency. “They think they’re marketing geniuses. It is safe to assume Beats would be part of an assessment of all [Apple] partners.”

Rumors of Apple bolstering up its internal ad personnel started swirling in 2013. Then, the respected industry publication Ad Age reported last month that the firm’s in-house advertising team has grown from about three hundred to as much as a thousand media buyers.

Steve Jobs and Jimmy Iovine (Getty Images 001)
Steve Jobs and Beats co-founder Jimmy Iovine, now an Apple employee.

Media buyers don’t think up new ads: their main responsibility is the procurement of media real estate at an optimal placement and price. Apple’s already moved much of its TV advertising in-house and is now pitting its own teams against TBWA’s and creative solutions proposed by a lot of other outside ad shops, further straining the its relationship with TBWA.

I’m finding this development interesting on many levels.

For a long time, I’ve been arguing that Apple should be viewed as a marketing agency that just happens to make consumer electronics products.

Apple’s marketing from the onset has been world-class.

For decades, Apple’s bold, underdog approach to ads has kept audiences captivated, earning itself many accolades with campaigns like the “1984” Super Bowl commercial which introduced the world to the Macintosh, the smart “Mac vs. PC” campaign or the memorable “Think Different” ad.

As much as I hate saying this, Apple did indeed lose its marketing mojo following Steve Jobs’s death in October 2011. Steve Jobs was the ‘mojo’ in Apple marketing. Under his leadership, Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller, never really obsessed over slogans, or lines in ads or creative concepts.

This was primarily Steve’s thing.

Apple Genius Ads

Matter of fact, Steve was often credited as one of the rare CEOs – if not the only one – whose hands-on proactive approach to advertising involved the most minuscule of details.

When you lose a CEO for whom marketing wasn’t just an afterthought, missteps like the silly Apple Store commercials staring Geniuses (pictured above) were bound to happen. And with Jobs gone, Samsung found courage to attack Apple directly with snarky ads.

You knew Apple’s marketing took a turn for the worse after Samsung kicked off the now famous Galaxy campaign with ads that lampooned people who’d wait in the line for a new iPhone.

Those were followed by a 2013 Wall Street Journal story headlined “Has Apple Lost Its Cool To Samsung?”. The article sent Schiller through the roof. According to court documents from the second Apple v. Samsun trial, Schiller promptly fired up an email to TBWA execs containing a link to the article and a line saying “we have a lot of work to do to turn this around”.

The ad shop’s official response? Apple should change its ways.

“I now have Apple board members asking ‘what is going on with advertising and what are you going to do to fix it?’” reads the most damning line in Schiller’s email.

If I were Apple, I’d fire TBWA, too.

You simply don’t get to produce complacent and dull ads for the world’s top consumer electronics powerhouse. TBWA’s approach to its #1 client leaves a lot to be desired. The work TBWA’s produced for Apple in the past three years isn’t just unsatisfactory, it has tarnished the Apple brand.

And for that, TBWA must go.

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  • Tommy Gumbs

    Apple is tasteful with their advertisements. I would rather see a commercial highlighting useful apps and selling features of the phone than a commercial bashing every fault they (Samsung) can find or fabricate. At the end of the day Apple could fire back, but then they would be no better.

    • https://twitter.com/aidanharris1 Aidan Harris

      There’s only so much Scamsung can do and say before Apple retaliates. They can’t just accept the enslaught and eventually will have to answer to what Scamsung are saying. I’m not suggesting Apple should stoop to there level but there’s only so much slander a company like Apple can take before it starts to become damaging…

  • Sam Love

    They do have a point targetting the really limited battery capacity in these phones. Maybe it will even convince Apple to produce a phone where you don’t have to send it in if the battery needs replacing.

    • https://twitter.com/aidanharris1 Aidan Harris

      FYI the battery life of the iPhone is not limited. When you consider its form factor it’s nothing short of a miracle that Apple gets the battery life they are…

      • Tommy

        And that miracle you’re talking about is pretty rubbish as it is. I’m on the 5S here and have to charge it at least twice daily. Having close to 40GB of media is pretty worthless as they are all at the mercy of the battery life.

      • hit

        Yeah its good for its size but its still shit, so actually it is ‘limited’

      • https://twitter.com/aidanharris1 Aidan Harris

        Depends on the standards that you’re using to judge the battery life. If you’re using impossible standard then of course by your standard it’ll be ‘shit’ if however you use more realistic standards you’ll see that actually the iPhone battery life is amazing.

      • hit

        You relise you could say that about anything? “Hitler wasn’t a bad man it just depends on the standards you use to judge him” and anyway it is subpar compared to most other flagship phones so those are the standards I’m using.

      • https://twitter.com/aidanharris1 Aidan Harris

        True except comparing the iPhone to other flagship phones is just wrong on so many levels since other flagship phones are nothing like the iPhone. I know you can (and perhaps will) come up with some witty retort to this statement but honestly the iPhones battery life really isn’t that bad. Is it perfect? No absolutely not. Could it do with being improved? Absolutely. But does it need improving? Not really. If Apple improves the battery life in future iPhones it would certainly be welcomed by many but by no means necessary.

  • regkilla

    Those ads do suck. Apple needs in your face kind of ads!

  • Sean Clark

    Good. The Beats World Cup commercial was fantastic.

  • https://twitter.com/MrElectrifyer MrElectrifyer

    I sense the deceitful Apple ads (http://bit ly/1krqoL2) returning sooner than later. Let’s see if they’ll be mature this time around with truthful facts…