Apple and Microsoft just proved the power of advertising


Apple Inc logo

Ads still matter. Who knew?

/ Getty Images

By the time last week was done, I was overwhelmed by the tech industry’s twisted nature.

There were the straight-faced obfuscations of tech CEOs before the pure souls of Congress.

There were tech industry internal emails produced by Congress that showed some of the detritus behind those obfuscations.

And then there emerged the delicious notion that Microsoft might indulge in the emotional equivalent of a middle-aged couple suddenly turning to nudism. Yes, committing itself to TikTok.

Somehow, though, all I could think about was advertising.

The CEOs were advertising that they’re not really monopolists. Their shtick needs work. They rather managed to project that they’re merely extraordinarily greedy for all-encompassing amounts of profit.

And then there were the emails, specifically the ones from Apple. I found it so moving that, in 2010, Apple’s SVP of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller was truly upset when he saw an ad.

You’d think ads couldn’t disturb the powerful?

Well, here’s what Schiller wrote: “I just watched a new Amazon Kindle app ad on TV. It starts with a woman using an iPhone and buying and reading books with the Kindle app. The woman then switches to an Android phone and still can read all her books.”

The shame of it. The mere idea that someone could own an iPhone and an Android phone must have been highly troubling.

For Schiller, the pain ensued from the mere idea that “it is easy to switch from iPhone to Android.” (Who would think of doing such a thing?)

He described it as “not fun to watch.”

This, quite naturally, led to Apple stopping this heinous habit and try to make Amazon pay a tithe for offending Cupertino. And that’s why you still can’t buy digital books in Amazon’s iOS app.

Apple must have known this issue existed. But it was the sight of an ad — one that that told real people about the possibilities — that sent Apple over the edge.

Marveling at the power of advertising, I opened an odd bottle of wine called Entanglement. Seriously. Then I opened the ZDNet app on my iPhone and discovered that Microsoft was possibly, perhaps, maybe contemplating its own entanglement. With, of all things, the American part of TikTok.

While many debated whether this was some slightly loony middle-aged crisis, my mind again wafted to advertising. (Disclosure: former executive creative director of ad agencies around the world. Now recovering.)

While some of  the biggest tech companies internally disdain advertising, they also live off it. Google and Facebook are advertising companies, however much they claim to be creating gadgets that will alter our existence. Amazon, too, has made vast forays into the advertising sphere, something that increasingly worries Google.

Microsoft might, just might, take a look at kids’ most beloved app, one that Facebook is desperate to copy, and think — among other things — that there’s a wonderful opportunity for a new profit source. A source containing our youngest and brightest, not innate lovers of the Microsoft brand.

Naturally, rumors on this subject emerge by the minute. So by the time you read this Microsoft may have already launched TikTok Teams, a way to bring the youth of our nation together to, um, make the world a better place.

However, one rumor suggested that Microsoft’s primary role in any potential US purchase of TikTok would be to secure TikTok’s data in this country.

Now what happens when a tech company secures its users’ data? It monetizes it via digital advertising.

It’s touching that advertising still has its strengths.

Rarely has a business managed its image more poorly than the advertising business. This is a touch careless, given that image-creation is supposed to be a core element of advertising’s alleged worth.

Yet here it is, wagging its straggly tail again. And tech companies can see the money within. 

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