As the battle of presumptive presidential nominees becomes more and more personal, campaign strategies and marketing styles are materializing on both sides of the divide.
Barack Obama: The newcomer who quickly rose to fame based on what many claim to be carefully constructed pretty words and a overly slick veneer of hope.
John McCain: The old-timer maverick whose critics point to a willingness to sell his reputation to right-wing conservatives for an increased shot at the White House.
Substitute "iPhone" for Obama and "Palm Pilot" for McCain, and the parallel marketing strategies couldn't be more striking. (McCain could just as easily be compared to a Blackberry, Zune, or any other device contesting Apple's rise to fame in the smart-phone/DAP market, as they all tend to follow the same pattern of attack.)
Take the following quote from Palm CEO, Ed Colligan, regarding the prospect of an as-of-yet released Apple entry into the smart-phone market:
"We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone," he said. "PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in." SOURCE
On June 29, 2007, Apple just "walked right in" with the release of the initial iPhone, and the crowd went wild. Or, at least, some of the crowd. Others repeated an oft-heard refrain about those who stand in Apple's corner; charges of drinking the Kool-Aid, accusations of sheep-like behavior and a cult-like acceptance of style over substance have dogged Apple fans for years.
Meanwhile, Apple's marketing strategy for the iPhone was quickly unveiled, featuring a straightforward focus on the functionality of the new device, a strategy which has spilled over to the recently released iPhone 3G.
Apple has been content to subtly damn the competition by insinuating a lack of focus regarding features that matter while rarely, if ever, bothering to mention any specific competing device by name.
Critics were quick to point out the shortcomings of the first generation iPhone. Notably, it lacked many features of long-standing rivals from Palm and RIM such as picture messaging, and the availability of third-party applications.
Apple's rivals chose to focus on a problematic strategy that never worked for companies competing against the dominance of another Apple sensation -- the iPod -- "We've got more experience, more features. Just ... more."
Claims are routinely bandied about that Apple loyalists put the fan in fanatic, that the iPhone is an entertainment product, devoid of substance. The mainstream media is said to focus a disproportionate amount of coverage towards Apple's products, at the expense of Apple's competitors, and that Apple knows how to massage the media to obtain favorable reporting. No matter how reasonable the response, iPhone owners are said to be irrational and angry when confronted with criticism.
(Of course, it goes without saying that some Apple fans are indeed die-hard apologists.)
It's also worth noting that Apple has flip-flopped on various topics including price, key features and a sudden willingness to subsidize, mostly in what is seen as an attempt to woo consumers who have yet to make up their minds.
Last, but not least, Apple's relationship with AT&T is portrayed as problematic and stands to damage the relative good-will that the company has built up over the years as an alternative to "evil" corporations such as Microsoft.
With all that in mind, the biggest failing of the marketing strategies of Apple's competitors is the decision to focus additional attention to the iPhone by talking about it more often than they talk about their own devices. The idea seems to be that the best defense is a head-on attack, throwing everything at the wall to see if anything at all will stick.
Meanwhile, Apple is poised to sell 10,000,000 iPhones, well short of its target date for that milestone and is second only to Blackberry in the smart phone market. Not bad for the new kid on the block.
At this point, the comparison may not even need to be made, but:
The nature of most every criticism lobbed at Barack Obama boils down to the fact that he's not experienced and he's either 1) a flash-in-the-pan celebrity comparable to Paris Hilton or 2) the second-coming of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the biggest flaw of John McCain's campaign (and the criticisms levied by his supporters) lies in the decision to lend even more face-time to an immensely popular opponent who isn't suffering from a lack of face-time, with an emphasis on mockery, rather than on the issues, at the expense of a focus on McCain himself.
Apple's opponents have shown that you can't hurt a media sensation by throwing more attention its way, even if said attention is intended to be negative and even if that negative attention is occasionally accurate -- and John McCain would be wise to heed the precedent. He may cackle at his campaign's juvenile references to Obama as "the one" and heavy-handed comparisons to Paris Hilton, but Obama may laugh all the way to the White House.