Blighted apple

I was at BestBuy the other day, and stumbled across a huge new Samsung Mobile display that was mid-way to completion. It was 50% larger than the Apple Computer display area that had dominated this location for the past few years. Worse yet, Samsung’s new, shiny area was directly across the aisle. I thought, “This is how it ends.”

It’s becoming fashionable to take a bite out of Apple. There was Jean-Louis Gassée’s scathing article in the Guardian. There was Jon Gruber (of Daring Fireball) damning Apple with faint praise: blaming the media for cherrypicking the news to weave a narrative about Apple’s slow demise. I expect the chorus to grow louder before it weakens. Blood in the water, and all that.

Apple doesn’t do itself many favors. Its trenchant secrecy used to seem cool – and I daresay it would still be considered cool – if not for the fact that a) competitive technologies are legitimately “catching up” to the iDevices and, b) the company’s accounting tricks seem increasingly slinky and mean-spirited.

Bloomberg reported: “Apple avoided as much as $9.2 billion in taxes by financing part of a $55 billion stock buyback with debt rather than offshore cash that would have been billed by the U.S. government.”

Juxtapose that legal money laundering with the typical mindset of the prototypical iConsumer. At some point the corporate accounting chicanery will sound a discordant note that continues to toll. “These guys at Apple? These are not good guys. They are not pro-American. They’d go to any length to avoid paying taxes that would benefit America’s defense, infrastructure and education. And worst of all, sin above all sins: their tech is now only on-par with everybody else.”

In other words: not cool. Not anymore.

What do you do about this if you work at Apple PR?

First: note that you have time. There is still an enormous reservoir of goodwill for the brand, and a grudging fondness for its late founder.

Next: note that you don’t have forever. The PR group can’t do much about the innovation of the technologies, but they can rethink the current “quiet cool” mentality.

What I’d suggest to Apple’s PR honchos: marshal your forces across Customer Service, Engineering, PR/Marketing, etc. such that when Apple does decide to “go social,” it does so better than anyone else. We should expect no less. Build up an enormous content library: technical FAQs, a vast directory of service links, all of the artwork ever produced for Apple, pages torn from Jobs’ and Woz’s early notebooks, blog posts from across the organization, a calendar of activities and events, et cetera, ad infinitum. Then make an audacious commitment to respond to any relevant consumer query, across any channel, within 24 hours. And put the $$ and muscle behind that promise to ensure it is met. Go from uncommunicative to overwhelmingly over-communicative. Silence the current and would-be haters by being as cool-as-ever (with tech, if not attitude) but also, nicer-than-anyone-else.

As my colleague Peter Shankman has written recently: nice companies finish first.

For Apple, it might be worth a nice try.

Todd Defren


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