Posted by: kevinliebl | April 8, 2010

The Apple iPad – Blurring the Lines of Advertising

Apple iPad, Modern Family

Modern Family's Phil Dunphy with his new Apple iPad

Now that (some) of the buzz over Apple’s iPad is starting to fade, I thought I would write a blog post on what I thought was an intriguing piece of promotion on Apple’s part.  The hit ABC television show “Modern Family” had an episode that was essentially written around the iPad.  The father on the show, Phil Dunphy was hoping to get an iPad for his birthday, and his wife overslept and didn’t make it to the Apple store in time to purchase one.  I have to admit, I loved the episode.

To be fair, there are many people who thought this episode was over the top.  One critic called it “icky”.  However, I personally thought it was brilliantly executed.  First, the timing was perfect.  The show aired the week prior to the iPad being released on Saturday April 3rd.  The show had the perfect target demographic.  It is a hit comedy that targets the right audience.  The plot walked a very delicate line of self-parody.  Using the goofy character of Phil Dunphy they were able to laugh about the typical Apple consumer who cannot wait for the new iPad, but (in my opinion) didn’t step over the line.

Now for the conspiracy theory…  The ABC network and Apple claim that this was not a case of “product placement advertising”.  They claim that Apple didn’t pay for the iPad to be spotlighted, but rather it was the idea of the writers.  They felt that the iPad launch was perfect material for the show.  The fact that Apple chief executive officer Steve Jobs owns a controlling interest in Disney, ABC’s parent company, and that one of the leading “apps” for the iPad is ABC’s viewer showing their top shows on your lap might have influenced the writers.

Regardless of the behind-the-scenes positioning, I have to admire the alignment of pop culture and advertising.  In an age where we all have DVRs and fast-forward through commercials, companies are having a harder and harder time reaching consumers.  Product placement has been a slippery slope for many entertainment mediums and has offended many viewers.  However, if done appropriately, I believe it can be very effective.  I believe we are moving into a new age of advertising where more and more products will be included into the plot-lines of shows.  My 12-year old son will not give up on trying to convince me to buy a yellow Chevy Camaro, just like the one in Transformers.  No matter how many times I tell him it isn’t going to happen, he still believes he will win this argument.

Marketing and advertising have always been accused of manipulating the customer.  Many people believe that advertising is simply brainwashing and should be regulated more strongly.  There are many examples of this that I completely agree with.  Cigarettes, as an example, should not be targeted to children – see the 1960’s Flintstones commercial.  However, when a show such as Modern Family is simply reflecting the reality of popular culture, I have no issue with this.  The show was funny because it reflected reality.  Saturday afternoon when several of my neighbors were standing in their front yards waiting for the UPS truck to arrive with their deliveries from Apple, we all laughed about the show.  The UPS driver said he felt like Santa Claus delivering gifts to all the Phil Dunphy’s in the area.  Sometimes reality is funnier than fiction…


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  1. There are two forms of mobile user: consumer and producer. The iPad is perfect for the “consumers” – read-only transactions, a little e-mail and messaging, possibly a video or two along with some songs. The “producer” uses a mobile device to get work done and make money. Blackberry types. No songs, videos, or idle chatter. More along the lines of enterprise e-mail and calendaring, order entry, mobile CRM and such. I don’t think Apple has the internal workings on any of their mobile platforms to cater to the producers. At least not yet.

    • Mark,

      Thanks for the comment. The blog post was focused on the advertising and promotion of the iPad, not the functionality. However, you raise an interesting point. Is the iPad targeted (or more valuable) for the producer or consumer? Having used it now for a week or so, I would challenge your premise. While the on-screen keyboard is a bit awkward, and therefore, would keep me from using it as my primary method of “enterprise” email – the fact that you can connect a standard keyboard via bluetooth solves that problem. The overall interface is actually much nicer (and more efficient) in many ways than using a keyboard and mouse on my desktop or notebook. I agree with you that when I am creating a blog post, I will most likely do this on my desktop or notebook. However, there are times when I am remote and want to create content where the iPad may be much more practical. Certainly as a “consumer”, this is a great device. As a “producer” I think it will come down to the applications that are created for the platform. There are no absolutes and it depends on your preferences and the work you are trying to accomplish. However, as I said, after using it for a week, I am really impressed. I think that the fundamental architecture and functionality is outstanding. It will be interesting to see more and more “apps” become available. To your point, I am seeing point-of-sale (POS) applications, sales applications, CRM applications, order entry applications and CRM applications for the iPad that are very powerful. It will be interesting to watch this movement develop…

      Thanks for the comment!

      I believe that

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