Yesterday Apple announced, for the first time in 10 years, the availability of the Beatles’ music catalogue on their iTunes Store. This is great news for the fans of the band who do not already have digital versions of the music. So why has the announcement attracted criticism from the many fans of the Apple brand? This simple PR announcement has turned into quite an interesting marketing case-study of how hype can be damaging to a brand.

Firstly, a little background about the company. Over the last few years, media interest in the Apple has been growing year-on-year to the point today where it is one of the most written about and closely watched tech companies in the media. According to Pew Research Centre study, over the last 12 months, headlines about Apple took up 15.1 percent of tech news coverage, while articles about Google constituted about 11.4 percent, and only 3 percent were about software giant Microsoft. Not bad for the ‘little’ PC maker that has long lived in the shadow of Microsoft.

As a company known for creating ‘revolutionary’, ‘magical’, ‘wonderful’ products and redefining product categories (think iPod, iPhone, iPad), Apple’s marketing machine has been hard at work to establish the brand as an innovator, market leader, and a game changer. The success of the brand has come from the strategically crafted synergy between its products, PR, advertising and the face behind the brand, Steve Jobs. The power of the brand comes from the fact that all the elements are inline and speak the same message – simplicity, elegance, power, which is not an easy feat.

Apple is a brand that truly has fans. On a launch day for a new product or upgraded product, it’s not uncommon to find consumers camping out in front of the stores to be the first to get their hands on the latest and greatest. One of Apple’s strategies is the clever use of secrecy and mystique to build up the hype, they release a little teaser to the public and the news media takes care of the rest. Days before Jobs hits the stage to deliver his super secretive Keynote Presentations, the blogosphere and forums are writhe with speculation about what Apple will announce, all buzzing with an air of anticipation. Apple certainly know how to create a buzz. If you haven’t already seen Jobs at work, I recommend that you do, he is the rockstar-magician of CEOs, and plays his audience like a master.

So this brings me back to the recent announcement. True to form, Apple changed its homepage for a 24 hour period prior to the announcement, kickstarting the media-hype-machine with the cryptic headline “Tomorrow is just another day. That you’ll never forget.”

What were the public to make of the teaser. There were rumours abound about a new cloud based iTunes service, a subscriptions based music service, and even the elusive mystery app that was absent from October’s special event presentation.

The announcement (the bombshell)

I could feel a wave of disappointment surging through the interwebs. There was definitely a “Is that it?” feeling about the whole affair. I imagine that if this day is a day not forgotten, it will be for all the wrong reasons.

For all the hype surrounding the announcement, getting the Beatles on iTunes was a real let down. This is why –

  1. True Beatles fans will already have the catalogue on their computers and iPods (ripped off CD or downloaded legally or illegally), so it’s not even a big deal for them.
  2. There are whole generations of Apple users who have no interest in the Beatles (Bieber yes, Beatles no). To them, this announcement was irrelevant and does not build any equity into the brand.
  3. iTunes has already established itself as a major distributor of music, an announcement like this may have been a big deal when the service launched 10 years ago, but now it seem a much ado about nothing.

To give you an idea of how the mood changed, here are some stats from one popular Mac site regarding the news of the announcement.

Hope: Pre-announcement news article (Tuesday 16th) –
Rating (247 Positives; 47 Negatives)

Despair: Post-announcement news article (Wednesday 17th) –
Rating (234 Positives; 1326 Negatives)

According to these stats and a few of the comments by this group of brand followers, this news event was a real fizzle, rather than the bang they were anticipating. It’s not surprising with the incredible amount of hype the brand has to live up to. The whole affair raises some interesting questions about marketing and brands.

Can adoption and ownership of a brand be taken too far? If a consumer feels they truly have ownership of a brand, should the brand consult the consumer on all decisions. Some of the brand’s followers felt misled by the teaser and do not feel that Apple were justified in having a 24 hour teaser for such a small announcement, and they now have a feeling of mistrust about the brand and its communications.

Who is responsible for all the hype in the first place, Apple’s marketing team or the media? It is a brand’s responsibility to make sure that the hype doesn’t extend beyond a certain reality?

Was it Apple’s intention to create so much anticipation, did they misread the audience? The actual news would only be of interest to a minority of its followers. Was the headline “(a day) That you’ll never forget.” taking things too far?

My own feeling is that attaining the rights to distribute the Beatles’ catalogue involved a great number of board-room negotiations over a 10 years period, and was something of an internal triumph for the company. In marketing terms, I believe that within the context of the brand, its products and its ability to generate anticipation, the internal triumph was given too much prominency when it was made external via its marketing.

No, its not a serious mistake by Apple, and no, it will not destroy the brand, but it does illustrate that fame is fickle. Hype has been good to Apple in the past and has helped sell millions of products. However, Apple need to make all efforts to control it in their favour. If they are not careful, loyal fans may start asking themselves “Did I buy the iPhone 4 because the iPhone 4 is the best phone on the market, or did I buy it because of the hype?”.