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Apple's Schiller excoriated ad firm in 2013 email exchange

updated 04:04 pm EDT, Mon April 7, 2014

Marketing head rejected suggestions company needed scrutiny

In a series of early 2013 emails, Apple's marketing lead Phil Schiller delivered angry words to long-time Apple advertising partner TBWAChiatDay, and specifically its Apple-dedicated Media Arts Lab, according to documents exposed through the ongoing Apple v. Samsung trial. As was mentioned in court, Schiller was upset with a Wall Street Journal piece arguing that Apple had "lost its cool" to Samsung. He forwarded the story to TBWA, simply commenting that "we have a lot of work to do to turn this around."

Media Arts Lab replied with a large memo, suggesting that the company was in a similar state to where it was in 1997 -- "in terms of the need for advertising to help pull apple [sic] through this moment" -- and that "advertising can absolutely help to begin to change this narrative to a more positive one, particularly if they are seen as part of a broader effort within the company." The firm proposed an emergency meeting, and examining fundamental aspects of Apple operations, such as its sales tactics, product roadmap, and treatment of worker abuses at Chinese suppliers. It also suggested deviating from the confines of the two companies' usual meeting schedules.

Schiller was irate, saying he was "quite shocked" by the response. "To come back and suggest that Apple needs to think dramatically different about how we are running our company is a shocking response," he wrote. "Also, to suggest we need to give you more free reign to spend money to explore ideas that you have not even tried to bring up in Marcom is shocking. We meet every week to discuss whatever we need to, no limit has been placed on what we discuss or how we explore issues, including our coming down to your facility for entire day long meetings.

"This is not 1997," he continued. "Nothing like it in any way. In 1997, Apple had no products to market. We had a company making so little money that we were six months from out of business. We were the dying, beleaguered Apple in needing of hitting a restart button that would take years to get turned around. Not the world's most successful tech company making the world's best products, having created the smartphone and tablet form factors and leading in content distribution and software marketplaces. Not the company that everyone wants to copy and compete with.

"Yes, I am shocked. This doesn't sound like a path toward making great ads for iPhone and iPad that everyone inside and outside Apple are proud of. This is what we were asked to do."

Media Arts Lab's reprenstative immediately tried to appease Schiller, extending apologies and saying that they were just trying to offer suggestions. Later, Schiller criticized the way iPhone advertising was going, remarking that whereas a Samsung pre-Superbowl ad was "in the zone," Apple was having trouble. "That's sad because we have much better products," Schiller claimed. "Maybe you feel differently. We should talk on the phone again if it will help. We can also come down there next week if that will help. Something drastic has to change. Fast."

by MacNN Staff



  1. carloblackmore

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-28-05

    Amen! Crazy enough I was having very similar thoughts to the campaigns I was seeing from Apple. It's somewhat comforting to know at least someone at Apple was digging for rapid improvement – although, it shouldn't have gotten to that point to begin with. Those emails seemed like two people on different pages, who must be meeting with each other but not actually listening to each other.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Agreed. Though this seems like little more than a dust-up between Schiller and the one rep at MAL rather than a full-blown conflict between the two -- a mishandled response from MAL seems to have angered Phil, but he's back to being conciliatory in the last email seen in the article, and of course we know now that nothing much came of it (Apple still using MAL) apart from a particularly good (if very low-key) branding campaign.

  1. Grendelmon

    Senior User

    Joined: 12-26-07

    Who cares? I'm sure companies blast each other like this all the time.

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