One of the (many) secrets of the iPod – The Advertising Blitz

I have been to five innovation conferences in the last four weeks all over the world, and every third speaker attempts to build their arguments of the need to innovate based on their confident, yet still third-party, view of the iPod’s meteoric rise to fame.

One of the aspects to the iPod story that I read about ages ago is an element that is never picked up in the stories. Most aspects of the technology had been available for many years. Creative Technology of Singapore had a product in market 2 YEARS before the iPod launched. Apple had even had a go at the handheld computer space with the unloved Apple Newton. (By the way – for an excellent guide to the history of the iPod, I recommend Dennis Lloyd’s excellent article in iLounge).

Apple’s run at the music market started with the iTunes launch in Jan 2001. Then in Oct 2001 the iPod came out. Tada!

Now, here comes my observation. Rather than technology, design, features, etc, etc, the real reason for the uptake came through Apple’s ultra-aggressive, highly memorable advertising campaign. You could literally not walk down any street in New York, Boston or San Francisco without the now iconic silhouette figures getting their groove on in front of a high saturation color.

Their advertising was unique – and everywhere. And the cost was immense. A WSJ article (subscription) detailed the real reason why Apple sped past its competition – CT and the rest. In a short period of time they spent over $200 million on advertising their new device – six times more than the entire ad spend in the industry. They quite literally bought their way to success, swamping any competitor message, and turning the humble MP3 player into a mass market device.

The lesson here is to be careful when listening to stories about innovation when the people telling the stories were not there themselves. If it sounds to easy to be true, it probably is not true. At the very least, they may be missing a secret ingredient. Just like copying Colonel Sander’s chicken recipe… and forgetting the chicken.


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