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Hype Sheet: The iPhone's Downshift, With a Little Help from Doug

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The Pitch Apple does a 180 from its usual DayGlo approach and mounts a man-on-the-street campaign, all in the name of that milestone gadget you either love to love, or love to hate. First up is recent iPhone convert Doug, who ungrammatically hails his non-bricked gizmo as "one of the greatest advancements in the history of mankind." His primary evidence? The fact you can scroll past voicemails that have obviously been left by mendacious deadbeats. And that's it—the spot closes with a staged-looking outtake of Doug leaving the scene, a shot meant to stress the fact that everything you just saw was completely unscripted. Okay, so this very column recently quipped that Apple might want to consider changing up is ad approach, if for no other reason than to keep the masses guessing. But is Doug the answer?

Rip-Off Of You might recall that Apple went in this direction once before, during its much-lauded "Switch" campaign from a few years back—c'mon, I know y'all remember the stoned, emo splendor of Ellen Feiss (now appearing in a random flick called Bed and Breakfast). But the vibe with Doug and his campaign mates is even more minimalist, with no soundtrack and that stark black background. It's like Doug is speaking from some sort of gadget confessional.


The Spin In contrast to the typical Apple gadget ad, which centers around close-ups of the product in question, the focus here is entirely on a real, live human user. The ad-world chestnut 'bout this approach is, "Putting a human face on [x]," where x is something which consumers still find slightly scary or baffling. Not y'all, of course, since Gizmodo's readership consists primarily of early adopters. But that guy in the next cubicle who still insists that the Razr is the best phone he's ever used? He's probably still a little skeptical as to why he should spend $399 (and likely change networks) in order to join the iPhone wave, and the disembodied hands of the debut ad didn't convince him otherwise. But, hey, this Doug character and him have a lot in common! They both hate deadbeats, as well as rambling voicemails! If Doug's a convert, maybe there's something to this iPhone mania after all...

Counterspin There's really only one thing that bugs me about this ad: the closing shot, in which the true on-the-street nature of Doug's monologue is revealed. To be honest, I never doubted the fact that Doug was, in fact, an authentic iPhone user, rather than a paid actor. (I don't think any scriptwriter could be clever enough to use the word "advancement" to create a veneer of realism.) So the end is the commercial equivalent of a joke teller elbowing you in the ribs and going, "Get it? Get it?" Yes, TBWA/Chiat/Day, I get it.


Takeaway There's been considerable debate as to whether iPhone sales have met expectations, with opinions often varying according to one's predetermined view of Apple. The more interesting question, though, is how the iPhone will sell in the coming months, not that the initial mania has died down. The price cut has obviously helped, despite blowback from early adopters who felt shafted (and weren't mollified by Apple's subsequent attempt to make amends). But to keep sales steady, even growing, Apple has to reach into that second tier of consumers—folks who may not be technophobes, but also won't buy a gadget merely because it's the latest and greatest. The Doug ad and its campaign mates are Apple's attempt to demonstrate specific ways in which the iPhone can make life easier, beyond just providing access to the "real" internet. Call it old-school salesmanship, targeting a demographic that doesn't fetishize tech like all y'all, and prefers concrete concepts to abstractions.

Hype-O-Meter 7.5 (out of 10). I was all set to slag this spot, but it grew on me after repeated viewings. Dorky, sure, but also a smart approach that addresses a specific goal of Apple's. Still, how about doing one of these with a buxom, honey-voiced female iPhone devotee? That would truly be a best-of-both-worlds strategy.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired, a columnist for Slate, and author of the forthcoming Now the Hell Will Start. His Hype Sheet column usually appears every Thursday on Gizmodo, though this week's it's on a Wednesday. Sorry.


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