Happy birthday to the iPhone: how proactive PR will guide the world’s most successful product through its teenage years
Ten years ago today, Apple launched a new product to the market. Although commentators had panned the iPhone when it was first announced in January 2007, Apple sold over 270,000 units in the first 30 hours when it went on sale five months later.
Apple focused on making something that was both easy to use and beautifully designed; what they managed to create was one of the most desirable products in recent history. Yet throughout the decade of the iPhone, Apple have maintained what the PR and media industry have come to call ‘the silent treatment’ in their communications.
For many of us, it is our most personal device. Many users have an almost emotional affinity with the brand, and the iPhone has already played a major part in our day by 9am – from waking us up with our favourite tune, to planning our journey to work and entertaining us along the way.
This means that Apple has been able to ride along on a wave of desirability. The company has used the silent treatment (“We’ll say what we want when we want, to whom we carefully choose” as Charles Arthur puts it in PR Week) to construct a cool air of mystery around the brand. It has set them apart.
Yet although the unrivalled success of the iPhone speaks of the strength of this PR approach, the cracks are starting to show. The beginnings of a backlash against the company – which is sometimes perceived as elitist, arrogant, even untrustworthy – highlight the dangers of a communications strategy which largely disdains to speak to its audiences, leaving them to make up their own story for the brand. For all those who interpret Apple’s PR discipline as the indication of a cool, premium brand, there are others who find the brand unattractive.
Proactivity is a crucial tool in all forms of PR and communication. Apple has recently made concessions in this direction: Tim Cook has given more interviews, the company has engaged more directly on Twitter. Apple has benefited so far from staying silent and letting us all speculate, but proactive PR is crucial when this speculation turns slightly sour. To make the iPhone’s next ten years as successful as the first, we will continue to see Apple making greater efforts to shape the dialogue around the brand and the proactive approach winning out.