Category Archives: product launch

The hive mind of Apple desire

You, dear reader, are an ant that is part of a much larger colony — a hive mind, or what artificial intelligence designers call a “swarm intelligence.” This is what happens when you see flocks of birds, each acting alone according to simple rules (fly fast, don’t bump into each other) swarm instantly in new directions. We observe group awareness in insects and in schools of fish. You might think that evolved humans are above such collective behaviors, but an observer of the financial markets or a passenger aboard a plane flying into JFK can see groups of humans moving masses of resources to terraform our planet. Really, people: We’re only 4 billion years into the 10 billion-year life cycle of the Earth’s sun, so if you think humans are the apex of evolution, you’re wrong by about 60 percent. As animals do, so do we.

So if we assume hominids act in groups like all other animals, and that all large groups of creatures make intelligent collective decisions to protect their species, and thus our society has a collective consciousness, what can we make of the fanfare of speculation about the Apple Tablet? Why, that 2010 humans are making a prediction that a new device will fill several gaps in our societal infrastructure: Our ability to consume content, move ourselves, broadcast to others, and salvage the struggling publishing and advertising industries. The Apple hyperbole newsgroup is judging as a whole that our peripatetic culture is about to receive a missing tool, a device that connects the world more easily.

This is more than thinking Apple will make a good product — what marketing scholars Raquel CastaƱo, Mita Sujan, Manish Kacker, and Harish Sujan have called a cost-benefit consumption analysis. Hive minds act as prediction markets, making decisions not on what they think will happen, or what they believe others think will happen, but what they think others think still others think will happen. Society, like a savvy investor, is three steps removed from logic, trying to game the future that will play out among all the other players. We’re like single spectators in a bar guessing who will hook up with whom to better our own odds. Society is judging the tablet as something that others think everyone will find useful.

And what is that? A future world in which panes of glass make true communication — sight, sound, video, text — portable at last. When tomorrow’s Apple Tablet is remembered a decade from now as the first real effort at portable screens — in 2020, when such panes cost $20 and are in every schoolchild’s backpack — we may look back and laugh. But it portends a future when the Internet has come unbound and unwired, where two-way video is everywhere, where information is finally at every fingertip, when you can cast your own face to your social network anywhere. Don’t trust us. The hive mind of hyperbole says it must be true.

Image: Toastforbrekkie

Cheerios: A cauldron full of seething excitations

To understand Americans’ hunger for self-pleasure, simply read this box.

Cheerios has launched a new chocolate cereal that must compete with hundreds of alternatives in the aisle. In the U.S., Cheerios is a favorite of moms who want a wholesome, feel-good breakfast for kids. Yet General Mills knows that the real consumers — children — love a sweet treat in the morning. So here comes its new product with 9 grams of sweetness per approximately 25.5-gram serving, more than one-third pure sugar. When Sigmund Freud wrote of humanity’s lustful, chaotic “cauldron full of seething excitations,” he could have meant this.

So how can Chocolate Cheerios break through? By appealing to both Freud’s Id (lust) and Ego (restraint) at the same time. Chocolate Cheerios is “made with real cocoa” (natural ingredients), it “may reduce the risk of heart disease” (what mom doesn’t worry about her family’s health?), and of course comes with a “whole grain guarantee” (this is not just real natural food, but General Mills is so certain this is real, it guarantees it). Even the colors of the cereal itself are half white and half cocoa, visually meeting Id and Ego halfway.

Cheerios, you’ve hit our logic-restrained desires perfectly. How sweet it is.

Coke has vitamins. Bottled water doesn’t. Viagra is waiting for best offer.

Back in 1886 when John Pemberton sold French Wine Coca as a cure for headaches and impotence, advertising was simple: He just ran a print ad in the Atlanta Journal. Pemberton’s Coca-Cola became an international powerhouse, but soda has been on the wane in recent years with the onset of sports drinks, green teas, herbal intoxicants and bottled water.

So you have to wonder — why is Coke launching Diet Coke Plus, fortified with vitamins and minerals, now? We mean, Coke has morphed through Pepsi Cola wars, sweetened formulas, cherry, vanilla, diet, caffeine-free, lemon, lime, even coffee-flavored versions. Someone somewhere along the line must have thought, dude! vitamins! — so why hasn’t it launched until today?

Coke began testing the vitamin version in April 2007, and we think the timing was auspicious. Bottled water — the cleanest, purist drink of all — took a hit early last year with environmental concerns about petroleum-produced plastic bottles and the carbon-footprint shipping costs of getting your drink all the way from Fiji. We think Coke has held back on vitamin carbonation for a while, as the killer app to take on its $15 billion bottled water nemesis, until the timing was right. (No matter that Coke also sells bottled water under the Dasani brand, small point, don’t want to spoil this theory, besides, those internal product managers probably fight each other anyway.) So now, bottled water in a slump, the world has six Diet Coke brands, including one with 25% of your daily niacin and vitamins B6 and B12.

Sociologists and dietitians may look back at 2007-08 and think, wow, that was the year consumers were most conflicted about caloric intake. They cut breaded carbs out and took artificial sugar-water with vitamins in. So what that carbonated drinks began as remedies for morphine addiction and substitutes for bubbly alcohol. Now soda cures sunlight deficiency and substitutes for orange juice.

The lesson for marketers: When your competitors, even as pure as bottled water, get hit with bad PR and start to crumple, dig into your files and pull out the killer brand differentiator. It may not make sense, but it will grab you new shelf space.

How do you predict Apple computer designs? Look at OS X.

If you want to know what Apple products will look like two years from now, just check out the 3-D glass interface of the new OS X. Apple has a history of telegraphing changes in hardware design by first updating the look and feel of its operating system.

Consider history. Back in March 2001, Apple launched OS X v10.0 Cheetah with the new Aqua vibe and white borders around all the screen windows. Macs in following years were encased in white plastic — so on-screen image and off-screen hardware matched perfectly. Then, in August 2003, Apple launched the OS X Jaguar with a brushed metal look. We still remember how the new OS X looked a bit bizarre, with an aluminum on-screen presence above the white plastic of our Mac laptop. The Apple web site at the time still pushed white plastic hardware …

… but soon enough, first Apple laptops and then desktops moved to brushed aluminum.

So where is Apple going with its new hardware design? Looking at the new OS X Leopard we see lots of 3D reflections, and the new Dock looks like glass. And for the first time we see window interfaces in OS X with pure black. Since Steve Jobs plans his technology conquests years in advance, we predict glass is the new wave of Apple machines — and glass works best for touchscreen devices. Perhaps in two years the iMac will shrink to a nice paper-sized glass pad, with a black border, thin metal back, no keypad and flash memory instead of a hard drive, that acts as keyboard, video screen, computer, projector and mobile device in one. Lower-end Mac computers will still be plastic, but will shift to cooler black with little highlights of glass. We see it coming, because OS X never lies.

A product launch we hate to love

HeadOn is still giving us a headache with their on-your-face ad campaign for a topical headache treatment that looks a bit like a glue stick. Seth Stevenson noted a year ago that the thing looks like a viral prank — 10 or 15 seconds of TV spot with the product name repeated over and over again. A year later, it’s still running on cable. Egad.

Yet there is something there. Apparently HeadOn used focus-group tests for numerous formats and found that maximizing repetition blew away any other ad approach in, yes, getting the message to stick. HeadOn has updated the spots with a chorus line of voices in the background, sort of like the reverb echo in my head. Short spots, cheap cable buys, and a staccato pulse have made HeadOn break through. Talk about reaching for frequency.

It’s Friday. Pass me the glue stick.

Take a picture, Maslow, it lasts longer

We’re not saying that those little disposable cameras you can buy for $3.49 are fully reusable, and that if you tore off the wrapper and bent a paper clip just the right way, you could pop out the film and have a perfectly great little camera, all for $3.49. Nope. We’re not suggesting that these cameras, which often say on their labels that parts will be “recycled,” will get new wrappers after you turn them in and be resold, again and again. We have no idea. We think bottled water is a good idea too.

The point is when the market changes and your product or service gets hammered — in this case, film cameras socked by digital tech — a savvy marketer can always reposition. Consumers love convenience, and if you can’t reach them on innovation, the next step down Maslow’s pyramid is the need to fill.

These cameras are also a great study in using point-of-sale signage to sell in the absence of other ad media.

How did Steve Jobs react so fast?

Back in the day, we were pretty pumped about the Jesus phone. Now, along comes Apple’s $200 price cut, the early adopters make a fuss, and one day later Steve Jobs pulls a mea culpa with a $100 refund for any iPhone users upset that they may have overpaid in July.

So … how does a billion-dollar company make such a ginormous refund offer so quickly? With a million iPhones sold, Apple’s exposure could be enormous. We think Apple had this scenario planned out far in advance. Just as any media plan or PR strategy needs to forecast consumer response, with multiple scenarios for unexpected returns, so too a good product launch needs to anticipate all outcomes. This price cut, and potential fallout, was probably mapped out last spring. And as planned, Apple came out shining: Jobs hit the 1 MM sales target as promised, the media made more buzz, Apple users got a feel-good refund — really a $100 store credit — to drive more demand for sales, and the iPhone is well positioned on price just in time for the holidays.

Nice apology. And very nice planning.