Truth in Marketing? Or Not!
Two of the most basic tenets in Marketing are that: 1.) you should never insult your potential customers and 2.) your marketing must be congruent (i.e. you can stretch the truth a bit but you can’t cross the line to where it is too far from reality). For this article I’m going to use a well-known (and well-liked) company to illustrate why these are both so important.
Years ago when I was working at Apple as the MacOS Human Interface Product Manager I remember talking with Chris Espinosa, one of the first Apple employees (and still there). We were discussing Apple’s latest advertising campaign at the time in which it blatantly put down PC users, telling them they had made “the wrong choice”.
It was a hard-hitting campaign that included many good facts to support this argument, but we both agreed that insulting your potential new customer’s intelligence was NOT the way to convince them to switch over. After all, customers had made a decision to go with the Windows platform, and telling them they had made a stupid decision wasn’t going to give them the ego stroke or the corporate ammunition they needed to consider switching.
Enter Apple’s latest campaign, which I believe not only insults potential customers but also violates the law of marketing congruence.
Now before I go any further don’t get me wrong – I am a Mac fan, and I believe that the OS and integration with the hardware provides a great experience. I use a dual-processor OSX Mac in my music studio and it provides outstanding performance and results, with very few problems.
That said, I use Windows for work with clients, and have since I left Apple in 1995 (the day Windows 95 shipped). Using Windows on my ThinkPad provides me with a very productive environment – as a business user it is my tool of choice.
Now that you know where I stand (I’m all about using the best tools to get the job done quickly), let’s look at Apple’s current “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads.
Psychologically the first impression from these ads implies that the PC user is an incompetent and misinformed geek. The Mac guy, on the other hand, is a young, smart, cool guy who is portrayed as obviously knowing “the truth”. This sets up an instant conflict in the mind of anyone who is relatively happy using a PC – who would want to be labeled as that geeky guy? But worse than this, the Apple commercials cross the marketing congruence line.
If you are fairly knowledgeable once you watch a few of the Apple ads you quickly catch on that the advertising is too far out of touch with reality to be believable. Again, one of the fundamental tenets of good advertising and marketing is that it has to be congruent enough with reality – if you stretch it too far people will catch on, your credibility will be shot and you won’t be considered as a choice.
I could go through and argue point-by-point about what Apple is trying to get across in each of the ads (fewer viruses, run both operating systems, etc.), but that’s not the point of this article. Some of their points are absolutely correct, but for me I know in my gut that the experiences they are describing with Windows versus a Mac are too exaggerated and don’t match my truth. And I have to tell you, as an educated user who knows quite a bit about using both operating systems in a real-world environment I feel insulted and flip the channel or mute the sound when I see their ads.
Maybe the masses don’t feel this way and won’t catch on. But if the masses ask people who are knowledgeable and open-minded for a recommendation about what to buy then the campaign could completely fail. It’s quite possible that the ads will only ring true to the Mac faithful.
So what’s the moral of the story? When you are creating your core marketing messages and campaigns if you want to win the hearts and minds of potential customers and convert them to your solution, your marketing claims have to match reality closely enough. Don’t claim to have a feature that you don’t have working yet. Don’t tell prospects that you can do something you can’t (because they WILL find out you can’t). Don’t claim your competitors can’t do something that everyone knows they can. And most important of all, don’t insult your prospect’s intelligence.
Want to be more effective at your job?
Kristi Royse, of KLR consulting shares this excellent article about how to be MUCH more effective in your job. Particularly important to Product Managers and others who routinely talk (and listen) to customers, I think you’ll find this to be very valuable. Read the article here.
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