A trio of Apple television commercials that appeared during the London Olympics raised public awareness of the company’s retail chain, but they also generated barbs from viewers who felt they misrepresented the duties of a Genius…and weren’t funny. The 30-second commercials showed a Genius solving emergency creative problems of various Apple product users when, in fact, a Genius deals almost exclusively with technical problems. The commercials first appeared during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, and were played several times over the next few days. The commercials then disappeared, but an ad agency spokesperson explained they had originally been intended to run only during the early days of the Olympics.
A 30-second TV commercial on NBC during the Olympics is priced at over $400,000, making Apple’s commitment to promote the Genius Bar a significant advertising expense. The company reported it spent $933 million on advertising of all types during 2011. Few of those commercials focused on the retail stores or the employees, and only a handful in past years have included a mention of the stores or a Genius.
In the Olympic TV spots, stand-up comedian Josh Rabinowitz is wearing a blue T-shirt with white Apple logo, and a standard Apple store employee lanyard (name is “Genius”?). He is accosted at various locations by people needing Apple product help: on an airplane, in a sidewalk waiting line for a food truck and while sleeping inside his apartment at night. Rabinowitz, 24, has made brief appearances on two cable TV comedy series. During the last two years he’s been touring for Comedy Central live shows. Ironically, earlier this year he appeared at two Central Park (NYC) concerts hosted by John Hodgman, who played “PC” in the long-running series of Apple TV commercials, “I’m A Mac, and I’m a PC.”
When the Olympics commercials first appeared, many viewers quickly noticed that the Genius was recruited to help with creative questions, usually handled by an Apple store Creative, Expert or Specialist, not technical glitches, which are handled by a Genius. For example, in the “Mayday” spot, a flight attendent leads the Genius to an airplane passenger who “forgot his anniversary,” and wants to make his wife an iMovie. The Genius moves to the passenger’s side and helps him in the 27 minutes before the plane lands. “Add the sepia effect!,” the Genius says with urgency just after the pilot orders passengers to turn off their electronic devices.
In another commercial, the Genius is approached by a man who just purchased a computer, and who believes it’s “basically” a Mac—but it’s not. In the third spot, an apartment house resident wearing a bathrobe knocks on the Genius’ door (#G) at night, and announces that his wife is about to give birth. “I wanna make a photo card announcing the birth!” he excitedly tells the Genius when he answers the door. The commercial shows the Genius wearing his T-shirt in bed, but without the lanyard. By the time he answers the door, he’s wearing the lanyard.
Besides the mis-reference to Genius duties, some viewers criticized the story lines of the commercials, the poor humor and the general lackluster look of the commercials. The “I’m a Mac…” commercials ran from 2006 through 2009 and were entirely humor-based. Some previous commercials also had a light-hearted approach. More recent TV commercials have focused sharply on the creative possibilities of Apple products, minus any humor at all.
The commercials were produced by TBWAChiat Day, Apple’s long-time creative advertising partner.
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