It began with a novel idea: Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) had created the next generation of the telephone.
Then, in a short span of time, the company quickly went deeper, outlining all the new things a phone could be -- focusing, naturally, on the iPhone’s seemingly unlimited features.
Finally, Apple entered what might best be described as the period of the iPhone's total embed, when its technology and marketing campaign melded into one stunning consumer juggernaut.
The iPhone, Apple now convincingly tells us, is an intrinsic -- in some ways inseparable -- part of its consumer’s lives. There’s no need for company ads to include the product close-ups or quick tutorials that were ubiquitous after its launch in 2007. Instead, we now see in the company's iPhone ads something more like product placement in a movie: The iPhone is there, a given.
How did the iPhone transition from novel tech device to vital organ in the span of just six years?
The video below traces that evolution through Apple’s ads for the life-changing smartphone, beginning with its auspicious debut.
2007: The Launch
For Apple’s first foray into the cell phone market, its consumer narrative focused on what a phone could be. Most contemporary cell phones were clunky, with limited Web functionality, their offerings tailored less to users' needs than to what the carrier wanted to offer on its network.
Apple set out to change that paradigm, which was evident both in the product and in the way it was advertised. The company had a lot to prove to wireless carriers and to consumers: It had transformed the music and computer industries already, and expectations ran high for the new brand extension.
Initially, the iPhone was marketed more or less conceptually. The first model did not support features such as Multimedia Messaging Service, or MMS, a text message technology for sending and receiving video, pictures and audio; third party apps; and copying and pasting of text and content in text and input fields. That absence prompted some industry naysaying. Yet the iPhone’s overall elegance and other standout features made it attractive, and sales took off.
2008: Going Deeper
Apple quickly built upon the initial momentum of its new product offering, adding -- and emphasizing -- improvements that set the iPhone apart from any other cell phone on the market. Ads aired for the iPhone in 2007 trumpeted the integration of the iPod, video playback, a full Web browser, a glass multi-touch screen and an aluminum body.
A year later, Apple rolled out the iPhone 3G, with its game-changing support for third-party apps. While the 3G body changed fundamentally with the switch to a curved, plastic exterior, the real seismic shift concerned the software and an array of applications that prompted consumers to expect far more from their phones, and to know precisely what they were missing without the 3G. Technological improvements provided new opportunities for marketing the product and ultimately flooded the Apple App Store with traffic. In response, the App Store created a software development and distribution ecosystem that other companies have since mimicked.
By this point, the iPhone had proved itself to be a major player in the marketplace, with 17.4 million iPhones sold by the end of 2008, according to ABI Research Inc. Apple still felt compelled to remind consumers of its features: For the release of the iPhone 3Gs -- the first “s” cycle phone, its ads in 2009 touted the new model’s video and improved camera functions to lure consumers who were looking for a reason to upgrade. The exterior shell of the phone didn’t change much, but the hardware had been significantly improved.
Soon after, the iPhone 4 arrived in 2010, with a new front and back glass design and an unobtrusive metal antenna along the sides. This time the marketing campaign showcased its high-resolution Retina display, a fully matured App Store, and Facetime, the phone’s video calling feature.
2011: The Complete Embed
By March 2011, Apple had sold approximately 108 million iPhones worldwide, indicating that the marketing and technological innovations were paying off. As a result, Apple was comfortable changing the focus of its ads. The phone’s tech aspects were proven; all that was left was to reinforce the idea that a person’s life was less meaningful without it. The resulting ads stated that message succinctly: “If you don’t have an iPhone, well, you don’t have an iPhone.”
When the iPhone 4s was released in 2011, it had a far better camera lens and optics, and Siri, the new virtual personal assistant. But the changing focus of the ads was evident in the phone’s predominant appearance in real-world scenarios, often with users interacting with Siri. Then the iPhone 5 arrived in 2012, with a thinner body and longer screen, and the new advertising narrative hit its stride. No longer was Apple pitching how an iPhone could change a person’s life. Instead the company illustrated how deeply embedded the iPhone already was in their life, and in the lives of people across the globe.
While certain features are mentioned in the commercials, they are now represented as part of a larger narrative about life in the era of the iPhone – an emphasis that has continued with the iPhone 5c in 2013 and will certainly continue with the iPhone 5s, the ads for which have not yet begun to air.
In six years, Apple has gone from telling consumers how much they needed an iPhone to showing them how much they love having one, and, in fact, how intrinsic the phone is to their lives. The campaign owes its success to a remarkable union of technology, marketing and reality, and the obvious question is where Apple will go next.
Perhaps the next level will be for Apple to reveal what the iPhone thinks of us, and show how much we will enjoy being a companion to the new and improved 5s.
Since its release in 2007, the ads for the iPhone have been created by TBWA/Media Arts Lab (TBWA/MAL), a multidisciplinary advertising division of TBWA Worldwide that works exclusively with Apple. TBWA/Media Arts Lab was established by Lee Clow, the creative director at Chiat/Day, the advertising agency known for its iconic "1984" ad produced for Apple. Chiat/Day merged with TBWA in 1995, forming TBWA/Chiat/Day.
TBWA Worldwide is a unit of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE:OMC), one of the largest advertising, marketing and corporate communications holding companies in the world. The company's Apple ads have won numerous awards, including Adweek Media's "Brand of the Decade" in 2009 for "relentlessly improving its products" and its "emotional connection to consumers."