June 20, 2007 / 7:45 PM / 12 years ago

Apple builds hype for iPhone with less

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When it comes to Apple Inc.’s iPhone marketing, less has proven to be so much more.

The new iPhone sits on display behind a glass case at the Macworld conference in San Francisco, California, in this file photo from January 9, 2007. When it comes to Apple's iPhone marketing, less has proven to be so much more. REUTERS/Kimberly White

The company led by Steve Jobs first unveiled the music playing iPhone in January, then ran a mysterious teaser commercial for it during the Academy Awards six weeks later. A scant few other details followed.

Only in the last few weeks, when television commercials started running in earnest, did viewers really learn much about what had become the most talked-about product of the year.

It is a suspense-building marketing approach that appears to have worked, judging from the buzz around the iPhone that is set to hit stores on June 29.

Advertising experts say the minimalist campaign will burnish Apple’s reputation as a master at promoting its brand and products.

“One of the intelligent things they’ve done with their advertising on this is they understood they didn’t need to let the advertising get in the way of the product,” said Kelly O’Keefe, executive education director of the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Adcenter.

“The product itself is innovative enough that demo-ing it on the ads is enough to generate excitement,” he added.

Others pointed to the way that Jobs has captivated consumer and technology press, essentially getting them to do his work by writing an endless stream of articles on what may be the successor to the popular iPod music player.

“They want to be as disruptive by their absence as by their presence so they’re happy to have this discussion go on ad nauseam in the media,” said Yankee Group cell phone analyst John Jackson. “This is all a big part of the branding exercise for these guys. We’re pawns in the Apple brand game.”

O’Keefe also credited Jobs, describing him as a “masterful showman” when it comes to new products.

“Better now than he’s ever been — and he’s always been good,” O’Keefe said.

OVERHYPED?

True to form, Jobs unveiled the iPhone at Macworld in January, pulling from his jeans pocket a device that runs only 11.6 millimeters (0.5 inches) thick. His presentation was received with a standing ovation.

The phone has a smooth glass touch screen rather than number keys. It promises up to eight hours of continuous talk time, seven hours of video playback or 24 hours for playing music, and includes a camera.

“What Jobs does is he focuses like a laser on what makes the thing cool,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group.

Rather than follow-up Macworld with an advertising blitz, however, Apple choose to run a single commercial dubbed “Hello” several times during the Academy Awards show.

Created by TBWA/Chiat/Day, an Omnicom Group Inc. agency, the ad showed dozens of famous actors and actresses answering their phones in scenes from classic TV shows, movies and cartoons.

At the end, the iPhone appeared briefly, followed by the word “Hello” and the line “Coming in June.”

The commercial otherwise told consumers nothing about the product and no new spots ran over the coming months. Meanwhile, only a few details were released about the iPhone.

Apple’s coy marketing fueled chatter about the iPhone in the media, online and around water coolers. By late March, more than a million e-mails seeking information about the iPhone had been sent to AT&T, the exclusive U.S. carrier for the phone.

“They keep the fervor up,” said Enderle. “They are very good at managing demand and keeping people excited.”

Only in the last couple of weeks has Apple come out with any new TV spots. The four commercials, also designed by TBWA/Chiat/Day, are more informative than the earlier “Hello” spot, showcasing the iPhone’s different functions.

Some experts cautioned against disappointing consumers after building expectations so high.

Apple’s famed blunder in technology circles was the Newton handheld device that debuted in 1993 but quickly slipped into oblivion. Even with the iPod, the first generation of devices did not function nearly as well as later models.

“These days you don’t overpromise if you are going to underdeliver because consumers are just going to be totally unforgiving,” said Brand Keys president Robert Passikoff.

“There’s a saying in the business: ‘Nothing killed a bad product worse than good advertising.”‘

Additional reporting by Sinead Carew

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