Designed by Apple in California. Huh?

I’ve been seeing Apple ads on TV and just ran across this full page ad in USA Today, all touting “Designed by Apple in California.”

DesignedByAppleInCAThe ads are beautifully done, but I’m confused about what they mean. Are the ads trying to say that those of us outside of California don’t have any design chops? Maybe it means that Apple employees outside of CA are inferior to those in CA? Or is there some other message going on that I can’t seem to pick up because I don’t have the required decoder ring.

The most likely answer: It’s a confusing campaign, which must have been designed outside of CA.

My take: While my assessment of the ads above is a bit tongue-in-cheek, there are a few things to learn from Apple’s new campaign:

1. Design is in the eyes of the beholder. Advertisements (or anything else that is designed to be used by people) come to life in the minds of the people who interact with them. While things may seem clear and obvious in a conference room at headquarters, that does not mean they will be interpreted the same way in the field. Make sure to test your messages (or any design) with your target audience.

2. Apple may be in trouble. Apple has created some of the most game-changing digital consumer products ever. And it has succeeded in a large part due to wonderful design. Yes, Apple does have some superior design chops. But why is the company suddenly spending huge advertising dollars to tout these skills? Is the executive team worried that their new and upcoming products won’t communicate the high quality design of their past products? Is this an attempt to retain good designers in the company by reasserting Apple’s commitment to great design? I always worry when a company proclaims its skills instead of just demonstrating them.

3. There’s still a lot to learn from Apple. While I’m not impressed by the overall message of the ads, there’s a lot of insight in the subtext. Here’s the part that I really like:

This is it.
This is what matters.
The experience of a product.
How it makes someone feel.
When you start by imaging
What that might be like,
You step back.
You think. 

Who will this help?
Will it make life better?
Does this deserve to exist?
If you are busy making everything,
How can you perfect anything?

The bottom line: Great design can change the world, even outside of CA

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

10 Responses to Designed by Apple in California. Huh?

  1. coball1329 says:

    Love the take on what Apple is doing with their new advertisements, but there has to be a look at what is going between them, Apple, and Samsung. Maybe the “Designed by Apple in California” doesn’t exactly attack the fact that Samsung is a foreign company, but the final two lines of the advertisements subtext say a lot. “If you are busy making everything, How can you perfect anything?” That line is an obvious jab towards Samsung, if not every competitors, bevy of products. Sure, Apple has got to be afraid of what may be looming ahead if they don’t get back to their days of immense and great innovation, but they have to be excited with how some of their upcoming developments are direct shots at Samsung, such as the new Air Drop feature on iOS 7.

    Aside from that, the post hits everything everyone has been thinking on the head.

  2. I get it! It is a clear attempt to demonstrate that it is a US company and overcome the criticism in Congress for registering their company in Ireland to avoid paying taxes. It is likely a campaign that was designed by public affairs and not the brand marketing group. They are engaging their employees, customers and partners for support. Allan Steinmetz CEO Inward Strategic Consulting

  3. Jim says:

    I guess the strategery here is to try to seem patriotic while maintaining the business case advantages of overseas manufacturing, sort of like Walmart tried. Walmart, as I recall, discovered that Merkins are not willing to (rah rah) Buy American! (rah rah) if it costs a dime more than the goods produced in Bangladesh under a few tons of sweatshop rubble. So sad Apple, or its agency, didn’t read the case study on that one.
    While the ‘California versus the rest of the USA’ perspective that has caused you some discomfort is not exactly what has my undies in a wad, the unease and dischord – perhaps a sense of confused desperation – of the Apple campaign seems to have struck us both.

  4. R.C. says:

    I’m pretty sure that the use of “Designed by Apple in California” is a ploy to play to the desire to by products from the US. They couldn’t say “Made in the USA” since the devices are made in China and they drove the point even further home by localizing it to the state of California.

  5. Simon Rainbow says:

    More likely they are stressing design rather than built. ……

  6. Jeff Toister says:

    I hadn’t given this campaign much thought, other than to wonder whether being from California carries some level of prestige. (Side note, let me know if it does. I was “Made in California” and may want to incorporate this into my personal branding.)

    One comment you made really stuck: “I always worry when a company proclaims its skills instead of just demonstrating them.”

    This is so true. It also seems to be a strange detour from another recent Apple ad campaign that highlighted how so many people listen to music on the Apple device (iPhone, iPod, etc.).

  7. Rick Byers says:

    As someone from the other side of the pond, I saw this ad and thought ‘So you want to hide the fact that the build is done outside the US?’, as my first reaction.

    Every-time I see an ad like this I just know the spin doctors are trying to hide something. The question that then plagues me is ‘what?’.

  8. benziblogs says:

    Apple is obviously stalling for time with this series of ads. But they want to remind us to be patient.
    The first paragraph tells us that they’re struggling to invent game-changing new tech, the kind that just popped into Steve’s head. The next two paragraphs explain the winnowing process that’s part of Apple’s culture, making a few great products. The last bit is meant to remind us that they “stand at the crossroads of technology and the liberal arts”. Their signature line just says their proud enough to sign their work. Their designers ARE in California. USA, not Korea!
    They’re saying, “We’re trying to invent something and it’s taking a lot of time. Trust that Apple’s culture will create something that makes us proud.”
    The best part about the ads is that they are poetry. Apple creates art.

  9. Liliana Daminato says:

    The whole “designed in California” doesn’t resonate with me on any level–but I’m not in the US, I’m in Canada. Had they just put their iconic Apple logo on-screen instead, I probably would have had that warm, lovey-dovey feeling they were trying to set us up for.

  10. Bob Bourke says:

    I agree with most of all of the above …which is to try to divert attention from….many bad news items that Apple has been facing:
    -Tax strategy running most transactions through Ireland*
    -losing lawsuits
    – Samsung putting out wave after wave of new versions of products seems like a new one every week…that water proof one seems very attractive.
    -and there may be many shoes to drop, or be thrown…. to be repaired

    I have never been moneyed enough or eager enough to rush out and buy the latest products. While I admire the design and development of products that Apple has created, I still don’t have any smart phone, but they can be handy and nifty (I hear and see)….up til now they have seem to set the bar higher

    I learned what I know about this ad from
    – seeing it numerous times on TV,
    -trying to find what I had seen was a possible parody but never found it after trying numerous search terms
    -in the process of the search coming up with other info about the ad and reactions to it (one reference noted it was the most disliked ad on TV (citing a survey)..or something like that

    * ( as the 4th generation of emigrants from there and having an Irish name…i RESENT THE BAD RAP and stupidity of the Irish government for not collecting more $ from Apple)
    One relative who stayed behind was an indentured servant as a way to learn the trade of being a cobbler…

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