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

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.