Apple isn't seen as cool anymore, but is building the largest megaphone possible to try and convince you otherwise

By James Robinson , written on June 13, 2014

From The News Desk

There's an old Simpsons episode from the show's classic heyday way back in the 1990s where Marge and Homer are talking with Bart and Lisa about what it means to be cool. Homer wonders if something can be so lame it becomes cool again. It can't. Marge asks the kids if the fact that she doesn't care that she's cool makes her secretly cool. It doesn't. Homer says maybe if you're cool you don't need to be told. But you do.

Bart and Lisa say that you're cool when people think you are. It's that simple.

Apple has the largest market cap of any publicly traded company. It continues to outperform even the highest of expectations, sales wise. It has more cash on hand than the US Government.

But it's hard for people to think you're cool when you've reached Microsoft-level ubiquity. Companies like Coca-Cola have fought against this by going full zany. Its ads have little to do with carbonated beverages. Apple on the other hand has built its brand image by embracing all that is clean, uncluttered and sterile. Too often it shoots for grandiose and goes overboard (like this iPad Air spot) or tries to be funny but ends up annoying (like its Olympics ads).

And now it seems, Apple knows this. It is seemingly bristling against this lack of perceived cool, starting to build one of the largest in-house advertising teams known to man.

In an email uncovered during the patent lawsuit between Apple and Samsung, Apple’s Senior-VP of Marketing Phil Schiller groused that Samsung’s Super Bowl ad was better than anything Apple had come up with. “I can’t help but think these guys are feeling it… while we [are] struggling to nail a compelling brief on iPhone,” he wrote.

Documented in a detailed feature in Ad Age this week -- which talks to two dozen former Apple employees and industry insiders -- are Apple’s attempts to find its marketing mojo, building up its own in-house marketing shop that it has been pitting aggressively against its agency of record, TWA/Media Arts Lab.

Last Fall, Apple built out its own marketing team from 300 to 600 people, Ad Age writes. According to one source for the story, that number has expanded now to 1,000, which puts it at 10 times the size of Google’s own Creative Lab and matching the size of many major American agencies.

Many senior ad execs told Ad Age that they were approached by Apple within a six-month period. One said that all of his friends had been approached. Someone else got the impression they were “just dialing numbers.”

Apple has snagged some big hires, such as Wolff Olins’ Global CEO Karl Heiselman and Wieden + Kennedy’s Bill Davenport, and has nabbed several former employees from TWA/Media Arts Lab, its agency of record.

But many top ad creatives told Ad Age that Apple didn’t hold much appeal in the ad market. “I don’t feel that energy from Apple… The revolution has come and gone, and I’m not sure a job at Apple would be a creative opportunity.”

As Apple’s own team expands, reportedly dating back to the launch of the iPhone 5S, it has begun pitting its own people against TWA/Media Arts Lab, making its agency of record compete against them for business. Several of Apple’s latest launches have been designed internally.

One TWA/Media Arts Lab executive was furious at how this was being conducted. “It is one thing to open up your account to a bunch of different agencies, but to build out your own troops, give them the brief months in advance and then give it to the agency -- it’s the most disrespectful thing.”

The problem with all of this -- outside of alienating half the industry by recruiting excessively -- is that as Bart and Lisa point out, it's hard to try to be cool. Apple is the establishment, not the upstart. Its ad spots are drenched in effort. Building an advertising army isn't going to help it, when the answer lies a little more in line with not trying so hard and taking itself a little less seriously.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]