In a 1998 interview with BusinessWeek, Steve Jobs said that "people don't know what they want until you show it to them." The quote has long been a celebrated dictum at Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), where Jobs famously shunned market research and instead relied on intuition as his company developed the now ubiquitous iProducts that have turned us all into walking zombies.
But if the events of this week are any indication, there are signs that, under the fledgling reign of CEO Tim Cook, the days of not listening to customers may be waning for Apple.
The website Mashable on Monday reported that the Apple has pulled its much-derided "Genius Bar" television commercials, which had been running during the 2012 London Olympics. The spots featured a baby-faced, blue-shirted Genius Bar employee helping customers with Apple products and ridiculing people who don't buy Macs. The short-lived campaign began receiving criticism from the moment it first aired during the Olympics' Opening Ceremony. Forbes gave it a "D" for dumb. The Atlantic christened it "strangely disappointing." And over at VentureBeat, the editors had one word: "unfunny."
In a statement, Apple's longtime advertising agency, TBWA/Media Arts Lab, said the campaign's curiously short lifespan was part of its plan all along. "The ads were intended only for a 'first run' during the Olympics, which meant just the first weekend of the Games," the agency said.
But not everyone is buying that explanation. Advertising Age's Rupal Parekh and Ann-Christine Diaz wrote on Tuesday that Apple is not known for "one-offs," with the exception of is Orwellian "1984" commercial, which aired only one time during the Super Bowl XVIII telecast.
That now-legendary spot, directed by Ridley Scott, set the stage for nearly three decades of Apple style and mystique. But mystique aside, Parekh and Diaz have a point: Apple typically does not abandon its ad choices as quickly as it has the "Genius Bar" campaign. Even its humorous spots usually enjoy heavy traction. Consider that the famous "Get a Mac" campaign ran for three years before people got tired of seeing Justin Long's simpering mug. Its "Think Different" slogan, meanwhile, was used for more than a decade -- despite the condemnation of grammarians who read it as an adverbial gaffe.
So whether Apple intended the "Genius Bar" ads to be a one-time affair, or whether it pulled them in response to the flurry of online jeers, the move represents a departure for the company -- one that might not have been seen in the era of the late Jobs. Since Cook succeeded Jobs in August of last year, there has been endless speculation about how the company will change under his watch.
But so far the verdict has been largely positive. In June, Forbes' Eric Jackson probably said it best, calling Cook a "very special leader" who "doesn't appear to feel the weight of false outside expectations that he has to be something which he can never be." That says a lot for a guy who has to live in the shadow of the man many consider to be our era's Thomas Edison.
Aside from the statement issued by its ad agency, Apple is being tight-lipped about the "Genius Bar" commercials, but regardless of why the company is pulling the plug, the decision has a lot of people talking about Apple this week. When you think about it, that's pretty genius.