Interesting article on why the iPhone has so successfully marketed itself…with very little self-marketing to speak of.
The Jesus Phone
By PAUL KEDROSKY
The Apple iPhone is set to be released today at 6 p.m., and I feel like I already have one. Apple’s new “Jesus phone” — it combines Internet access, an iPod music player, and, oh yes, a phone — has been accompanied by a loud, relentless, and unavoidable drumbeat of hype.
According to one study, 58% of British and 64% of U.S. mobile phone users are aware of the iPhone, and 19 million Americans have expressed interest in buying one. That is remarkable stuff when you consider the iPhone’s $499 price, not to mention that even the most successful so-called smartphones are lucky to sell a million units.
Yikes! So, how has Apple done it? Some people argue it has cleverly drip-dripped product information to the market, tantalizing consumers and journalists alike, everyone hanging on to learn about the next nifty feature. A big, bright touch screen! A real Web browser! A finger-flickable interface! I gotta get one!
But this theory is wrong. Apple hasn’t steadily dripped product information. As a matter of fact, the iPhone that Steve Jobs described and demonstrated back in January, when he first announced the product, is pretty much the same as what is being launched today. I am hard-pressed to think of a single material feature in the product that wasn’t announced six months ago, right down to the nifty new way you can scroll through songs.
So if Apple hasn’t teased and tantalized its way to iPhone ubiquity, another theory goes, surely it has been the company’s massive, multibillion-dollar marketing campaign that has done the deed. The trouble is, there is no such multibillion-dollar Apple campaign. Apple simply announced the product, and then did nothing. It has only been in the last month that there have been some television advertisements, and those were merely product demonstrations set to music. Granted, it was nice music, but it was also just an iPhone being put through its paces, hardly the recipe for hype.
Some will say I’m missing the most important factor in Apple’s marketing campaign: master showman, and Apple founder and CEO, Steve Jobs. He has been the one driving the promotion using his personal persuasiveness and charm. Fine. Show me his recent iPhone-pumping appearances on CNBC. None. Or on CNN. None. He has been conspicuous in his almost complete media absence. It must be a fairly postmodern style of promotion that has Mr. Jobs playing master showman largely by being invisible.
So if there hasn’t really been much of an iPhone marketing campaign, at least in orthodox terms, and Apple demonstrably isn’t suffering for iPhone attention, is it the Apple addicts out there that are responsible for the hype? Apple does have some of the most ardent fans of any modern company, more similar to cult members than customers, but there simply aren’t enough of them to explain the iPhone’s cultural ubiquity.
If it’s not the marketing campaign, nor the cult of Apple, nor the showmanship of the charismatic Steve Jobs, then how has the iPhone succeeded in getting millions of people interested in buying something so expensive that hasn’t even been launched?
I’ll tell you. First, people hate their cell phones. Other than making phone calls — a downright dreary bit of business — using phones for Internet, entertainment and pretty much anything else has been abysmal. Cell phones are best characterized as crippled, paternalistic devices best suited for people who think straitjackets are comfortable evening wear. They have horrible Web browsers, crummy screens, and obscure-to-the point-of-opacity interfaces. (After all, some of the iPhone’s most hyped features, like maps, are on traditional cell phones as well. You just can’t find the feature.)
But in addition to hating their phones, people hate their cell phone carriers. Hate, hate, hate, hate. The major cellular providers — with their ham-handed “support” and fascist control of software that can run on phones directly — are right up there with the IRS in terms of inspiring your average mobile phone user’s disgust and loathing.
To such consumers, Apple’s iPhone seems like a cool drink of water. These people want to be liberated either from bad phones or from bad phone companies. They want to choose a device that does all the things they want to do — calling, being entertained, consuming information — not all the things their phone company thinks they should do (and then be charged $5 a month per feature for the privilege). They want phones that make it possible to do calls over wi-fi, to the point that cellular companies could potentially become irrelevant.
The massive upwelling of grassroots support for the iPhone shows that a revolution has been building for some time. Now it’s here. Cell phone carriers are going to have to respond by cutting the length of contracts and eliminating exclusivity, and most important, by finally being responsive to their market. If not, iPhones (or their successors) will finish them off.