Take a bow. You should be proud you didn’t succumb to the hype and buy an Apple Watch, and not only because you saved between $499 and $17,000. (The $17,000 one has rose gold bits. Really).
You should be proud because the watch is a dud, and its failure shows some very good news: sometimes, we humans are smart enough to see through the best marketing in the world.
Apple’s marketing is famous. No. Beyond famous – it’s revered. Call it the gold standard.
The Apple hype machine is what they’ll still be teaching in marketing classes in 100 years. Apple’s marketers completely rewrote the rule book and managed to get news organisations to report breathlessly on the fact their new product was coming out.
Their secret recipe for marketing success had the following four parts.
1. Secrecy + Tantalisation
Apple makes exceedingly few official announcements about what it’s doing next. Then it springs surprises. The shortfall of official information creates riots around every possible leak, every possible hint. First rumours of an Apple watch were way back in 2012. Thirty-six months of headlines ensued as the public salivated over the possible new product.
Lots of companies had smartwatches coming out. Only Apple’s had people on tenterhooks. That’s because the California-based juggernaut earned our respect with a series of good products.
3. Customers who are thought leaders
If you have an effective but ugly product, it will be bought by effective but ugly people. Apple’s products are effective and look cool. Cool people want them, this makes Apple products even more cool. Repeat.
4. Fake scarcity
On launch day there’s never enough supply. This makes people queue. Then the news organisations show up to interview people queueing. Why can’t Apple sort out its supply chain? Oh, that’s right. It could easily. But lines of excited people are all part of the grand design. (Interestingly, the Apple Watch had an online launch, not in stores. Perhaps Apple sensed the queues might seem disappointingly small?)
This four-part marketing symphony was in perfect tune for the many iPods, iPhones, iPads and MacBooks the California-based company launched between 2004 and 2014.
That decade of glory saw Apple’s share value rise from around $5 to $125. The company sold $800 billion worth of product at amazing profit margins – often over 50 per cent. It has banked so much money ($US194 billion according to recent reports) it could now buy Australia’s biggest bank – Commonwealth – without going into debt. On the same shopping trip it could also pick up Telstra and Macquarie Bank and still have cash to spare.
Marketing machine stumbles
It turns out brilliant marketing really only works in combination with a brilliant product. We should give ourselves a pat on the back, humanity. Sometimes a dumb product comes along and even the best marketing doesn’t fool us.
Let’s not mince words about the Apple Watch. It’s not good.
Some people put off buying a smartwatch for a long time because they expected the Apple version to be a category killer. Here’s some choice parts of a review written by one of those previously enthusiastic people.
A horror to put on…. the requirement to recharge every night very quickly became tedious … I almost never felt the haptic alerts… I decided to return it…. I nominated a courier pickup date and location, and I received a ‘return address’ label to print and attach to the box. Going through the motions of removing the Watch from my wrist, unplugging and coiling the charging cable, and stowing it all carefully back into the layers of excessive packaging, was strangely cathartic.
And he’s not alone. There are hundreds of unflattering reviews on the internet.
Given the trend towards bigger screens in smartphones, it’s not clear why people thought a smartwatch was such a good idea.
Historically, there has not been much demand for wearable information technology.
The market starts and ends with the wristwatch. Wristwatches became extremely popular in the west in the 20th century, following their use by aviators in World War I. But it would be easy to over-interpret the importance of a display strapped to your arm.
• The wristwatch took serious market share from the pocket watch only in the last 100 years
• The wristwatch is a thing you glance at, not interact with. Even serious stopwatches are strapless
• When mobile phones came out, younger generations mostly gave up wristwatches
An interactive display strapped to the one body part you can reach with only one hand may come to seem a technological dead end.
Apple is obviously betting that’s not the case. There are already rumours in the wind of a newer, better Apple Watch.
Will brilliant marketing and a brilliant product combine again in the case of Apple Watch 2.0?
Apple better hope so. Because its next product launch will have to retrain the brains of consumers who just learned not to trust the hype.