Apple’s marketing for Siri started with a technical demo:
The demo video was part of a set of product videos featured prominently on apple.com as part of the introduction for the iPhone 4s, and it did its job – it told you what Siri did, gave a few use cases, and had the high production values befitting an Apple video. It was good, but a product demo is meant to inform, not to persuade. When it was time to actually sell Siri, Apple rolled out one of the finest commercials in television history (according to me) Assistant:
WOAH! Where do we even begin? First off, it nails the product introduction. The bulk of the ad is a rapid succession of people asking Siri questions. Twenty seconds in and a casual viewer has a great idea of the kinds of questions you can suddenly ask your phone (ask your phone!) with your voice (your VOICE!!!). But the casual viewer also understands that it’s magical. How? The soundtrack’s a hammer over the head, music that you’d normally see paired with footage of a miracle, trick, or major discovery, or maybe a unicorn giving birth to a rainbow, packed (literally) with bells and whistles. But more importantly, look at the faces. Grown-up faces are partially obscured. They bounce into frame for moments, but for the most part you only see the full faces of children. Why? Only children have the proper amount of wonder to fully understand the magic and power of Siri. Adults, and by proxy consumers, are just on the edge dipping their toe into this new world of amazing. The real beauty of this ad is that you don’t even need to think it through to get the point. It’s all there, working together perfectly.
So we’ve got this one amazing ad, but the iPhone 4S is around all year, so we’re gonna need more. We’re gonna need a campaign. It starts off well enough…
Snow Today? More of the same:
Santa – HA!
Road Trip – Uh oh, the adult lady’s peeking!
Rock God – Uh oh, the kid’s not peeking…
And this, friends, is where the campaign falls off a cliff. Our next subjects are filled with all of the wonder and magic in the world. Our next subjects are celebrity endorsers Zooey Deschanel and Samuel L Jackson:
It’s easy to see where the good folks behind these ads went astray. Sam Jackson is cool. Sam Jackson is using Siri to help him scrap golf in favor of creating a terrific seductive meal for his lady. We are expected to make the connection that since Sam Jackson is cool and does cool things with Siri, we will be cool as consumers if we purchase the iPhone 4S and behave as Sam Jackson would. When we purchase an iPhone 4s, we will ditch golf and use Siri to create a terrific seductive meal for our ladies (or gents). But alas, that’s not the campaign. Until now, the star of the campaign has been Siri, or maybe the phone. Not Sam Jackson. We see his entire face, implying that this celebrity is somehow more childlike and able to appreciate magic more than the adults in the previous ad, more than us. He’s saying things that Siri just plain wouldn’t be able to answer (is there anything worse than a technology ad that shows something fake?), and he’s talking to his damn phone outside of interactions with Siri. It’s hard enough talking to an inanimate object when it IS listening to you – the only people who talk to their phone when it ISN’T are crazies and paid celebrity endorsers.
I don’t even know what a Zooey Deschanel is, but I’m pretty sure she’s what would happen if you put a beautiful woman, a toddler, and the 1920s into the large hadron collider and hit Start. Her Siri ad is awful for the same reasons the Sam Jackson ad is, but maybe awfuler because I can’t for the life of me imagine who would want to proxy-purchase the cool of a woman-child by getting a talking phone. It’s like they already made the Sam Jackson ad, figured they needed a lady version, googled ‘cool young lady’ and started calling Zooey Deschanel’s agent. So bad.
So what do you do when you’ve crushed one of the greatest video campaigns ever? Double down on awful, by taking another cool actor (John Malkovich) and making TWO nonsensical Siri ads featuring him being quirky while slightly varying his level of creepiness:
Again, we’ve got the issues with the faked responses. Siri bats about .500 if you ask her the same questions Malkovich does. That’s bad. But now we’re so far over the moon that we’re just putting poor Siri into funny situations to see what happens. You know what would be cool? If in the next ad Siri got a wacky neighbor and hijinx ensued. Just kidding. Please don’t do that. No. Instead, everyone involved with this campaign should sit down and remember what they did right. They should rewatch the original ad – Assistant:
…and they should just crank out half a dozen more like it. There’s nothing wrong with repetition with slight variation. We talk about that with clients all the time. A great example of this is with customer testimonials. A thriving mid-sized business should probably have 2-3 customer testimonials prominently featured on its website at any given time. Every year or so you’ll probably want to mix them up to maintain an appearance of vitality and freshness for repeat visitors. That DOESN’T mean replacing customer testimonials with advertisements, or trade show montages, or silly spoof videos. It means slightly varying (new people) the same GREAT idea (customers bragging publicly about your company). Same goes for any other successful video campaign, like the Siri ads.
If the geniuses who came up with the first couple of ads aren’t available anymore, Apple should at the very least write a rule book for future Siri ads. Only fully show kids. Obscure adults. Only show voice commands that work unless it’s a flat-out joke (like the Santa ad). FOCUS ON THE PRODUCT, NOT ON THE PERSON HOLDING THE PRODUCT.
AGAIN: FOCUS ON THE PRODUCT, NOT THE PERSON HOLDING THE PRODUCT.
Rinse. Repeat. Save the campaign.