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Jun 96 Crabbs Apple
Volume Number:12
Issue Number:6
Column Tag:Crabb’s Apple

By Don Crabb

I am sitting here on the beach in Aruba reading a copy of Caribbean Week. I know, I know, it’s a dirty job, but I have to do it! Anyway, I’m sitting here trying not to spill my piña colada on the paper or on this PowerBook 5300ce (which tends to react rather poorly to cold alcholic beverages poured into the keyboard), when I hit upon an Apple ad (page 17, 1/3 page, four-color, for those who care) for the Performa.

The ad asks if I “Need help with your work?” And answers its own question with, “Then you need a computer that works as hard as you do.” These tag lines float above and below a photo of a beleaguered-looking guy at his desk, awash in stacks of paper, as he is clearly burning the midnight oil without a computer in sight. The ad further tells us with color highlighted tags that the Macintosh Performa is “Easier to use” and “More Affordable” as well as “#1 in Multimedia in the World.” The Performa is also hailed for its “integrated Software” and “CD-ROM”.

The ad’s body copy is clean enough:

“Welcome to Macintosh Performa, the complete solution that offers you the best return for your investment. Fax information to your clients or contact them through e-Mail and use the CD-ROM to help you create and author your own spectacular multimedia presentations. And perform many other operations easier and faster than with any other computer.

“Macintosh Performa also reads DOS and Windows files, and includes many bundled software titles and CD-ROMs for your business and entertainment needs. It’s easy to install, and like all Apple products, very easy to use. At your fingertips you have options that include creating 3D graphics, video conferencing, or virtual reality. No other computer does so much for so little because it’s not only what the computer can do, it’s what you can do with a Macintosh. Apple. The Power to be your best.”

OK, why I am on going on about what seems like a pretty standard Performa ad, albeit in a pretty nonstandard place, Caribbean Week?

Because this ad is a mess, and it’s advertising like this that is hurting Apple’s developers by sending either wrong or misguided messages to potential customers. Apple can’t afford to waste any more of its marketing money on this sort of unfocused ad du jour. Here’s why and what they should do about it.

First of all, Apple, no more ads that don’t focus on a single theme. Stop the mixed messages and the “all things to all people” nonsense. This Performa ad shows us a paper-bedraggled office worker working without the aid of a PC. Yet your ad copy touts the Performa’s ability to “perform many other operations easier and faster than with any other computer”. Damn, the poor guy in the ad could work smarter and faster if you gave him an old 128K Mac, let alone a Performa! But not only do you tout the Performa’s ability to kick the ass of mere mortal machines, it can also kiss their ass if need be: “Macintosh Performa also can read DOS and Windows files.” Well, yippy, skippy!

Leaping from a poor slob with no PC in sight to amazing feats of computation and competitor cooperation is also just plain dumb.

Oh, but I digress. Let’s get back to the ad copy. Consider the first graph body copy. The tag there tells us, “Welcome to Macintosh Performa, the complete solution that offers you the best return for your investment.” Fair enough. A good line to play off the picture of the paper-bedraggled office guy. But then read how you get off that track and onto the current Mac mantra: “Fax information to your clients or contact them through e-Mail and use the CD-ROM to help you create and author your own spectacular multimedia presentations.”

This ad is running in Caribbean Week, not the Wall Street Journal. Faxing may be hot in Europe, the Far East, and the States, but faxing in the Caribbean is not nearly so widespread. Remember, these are islands here. Each with its own phone system and interisland tariffs. So, while you may find intraisland faxing big on Aruba, just trying to find a working phone on Nevis or St. Kitts may be the order of the day.

But as suspect as the faxing line is, the notice of building “spectacular multimedia presentations” just floored me. I am still laughing at that one. And so is the guy sitting next to me here on Aruba. He happens to be the manager of the hotel I am staying at. I showed him the ad, and he’s rocking. I asked him how many “spectacular multimedia presentations” he needed to do this week, and he laughed even harder. You see, he doesn’t need CD-ROMs, or e-Mail, or fax modems, or the ability to read DOS and Windows files, or video conferencing, or 3D, or virtual reality (believe it or not). He needs reliable computers and a server networked together in his hotel’s business office so he can keep track of his guests, his rooms, his staff, his inventory, and the thousand other basic business tasks he attends to each day.

After all the laughter subsided, I asked him what sort of computer systems he had in place, and why. “Let me show you,” he said. So I took a look. He had a very new Compaq Pentium Pro server driving 14 different Pentium workstations, all with the same prebuilt menu offering the task choices his people needed. I noted that none of those tasks were virtual reality, 3D, video conferencing, or even spectacular multimedia presentations. No, the manager said, none of the things Apple touted in its ad were the capabilities he needed at his hotel. And he doubted that many other business people on Aruba would be much impressed with those Apple features, either.

So, I decided to do a little survey. I hopped into my rental car and spent an otherwise pleasant sunny afternoon checking out other hotels, stores, restaurants, even some government offices and a couple of schools. I couldn’t find a single manager who thought any of the Performa’s advantages would matter a tinker’s damn to them. To a person, the story was the same: they need computers that are reliable at accounting, database, word processing, inventory, and related basic business chores. A few were excited that such things as spectacular multimedia presentations might be coming down the road for them, but they doubted they’d buy Macs just to get those features. “Besides,” one asked, “won’t the PC guys have that stuff too?”

OK, let me move from the case of the Performa ad to the larger problem of Apple marketing and advertising. Since forever, Apple has tried to bite off more than it could chew. Nothing wrong with that in some respects, but when the entire company works that way, it becomes a serious problem. Apple advertising is a good example. It must stop trying to invent the need for everything “hot” the Mac can do, and sell the basics that its markets need.

Futher, Apple needs to figure out precisely where its market are and where it would like them to be, and then target those markets with advertising that speaks to their issues, not ads that have stale boilerplate copy ladled into them like one ladles old soup into a fresh pot in the hopes the restaurant patrons won’t notice.

Well, Apple, your patrons are noticing. You’re leaving a bad taste in the mouths of those who have already been seated at the Macintosh table, and you’re putting off potential diners because you keep giving them menus that don’t make sense - rare char-broiled steak served cold with a side of chocolate ice cream, preceded by an appetizer of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, washed down with a Lafitte ’65. The individual items are great, in and of themselves, but the complete menu is a disaster.

Apple, you need to get your master chef to crank you out some sensible menus. Until then, too many potential customers will be dining elsewhere. Or laughing at your menus...


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