Well, 2007 is finally behind us and on one hand, it was a great year for Apple. On the other in 2007 Apple learned a lesson about how viral marketing can easily backfire…even to the world’s best viral marketing company.
It all started middle of 2006 when a 9 year old girl wrote a letter to Apple suggesting improvements on her iPod nano. Apple’s law department swiftly responded: "Please no suggestions." Shea’s letter to Steve Jobs got picked up by CBS 5 news. And of course the bloggers had a field day. Apple eventually apologized to the little girl and they said they changed their corporate practices when responding to letters from children.
Then in January 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone. But they did it in an uncharacteristic (for them) way. Apple introduced the iPhone at MacWorld San Francisco and said it would be out in June. Now anyone who follows Apple knows they like to keep their products secret until a few days before general availability. But in this case, Apple gave the bloggers 6 months notice. And so the iPhone hype machine was inadvertently born. Here was a rare example of the hype getting away from Jobs and Company – pushing Apple to do unnatural things – like take engineers off of Leopard to ensure the iPhone shipped in June (it did, with only 2 days to spare)
Then, what seemed like a few weeks later, Apple refreshed the entire iPod line and introduced the iPod touch (which I believe was always intended to ship coincident with the iPhone but got delayed along with Leopard in order to ship the iPhone on time.) Along with this new line came a huge price cut on the iPhone – from $599 to $399 and the end-of-life of the newborn 4GB model. The bloggers had a bigger field day…and from those ashes the now famous iPology was born.
Now this iPology – a $100 credit to use in the Apple store and a personal admonishment to early adopters by Steve – did little to quiet the flames of discontent. And it didn’t end there for Apple. Apple decided to label their iPhone early adopters (the same audience Apple has long used to help spread the word for them) who had the audacity to add small programs to their own OS X powered breakthrough communication device as "hackers" and promptly began a small war against their own fanbase. Apple eventually did some minor damage control and sheepishly announced that an iPhone SDK would be available early in 2008.
The PR nightmare year ended with a final, unceremonious defeat at the hands of the young publisher of the blog "ThinkSecret" that Apple sued two years ago for leaking secrets. Apple attempted to save some face by requiring the blogger to shut down ThinkSecret and keep the settlement quiet.
So let’s hope that 2008 will be a great year for the bloggers and for Apple. We play our part in giving Apple enormous positive publicity when it deserves it and we will be swift to band together when we feel our Apple has a worm.