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A Look at Apple's Evolving Relationship with Sponsorship & Celebrity Endorsements

A Look at Apple's Evolving Relationship with Sponsorship & Celebrity Endorsements

5 Minute Read

Article Highlights

• Apple's marketing strategy has evolved over time to include more frequent celebrity and athlete endorsements.

• A variety of factors have lead towards Apples use of endorsers.

• MKTG highlights the top five Apple commercials featuring celebrity endorsers, including Stephen Curry.

Over the last decade, Apple has dominated industry lists identifying the world’s most valuable brands. And while Apple’s integrated marketing efforts have helped fuel their status with consumers, the brand has predominantly avoided any major investments in sponsorship or celebrity endorsement.

While competitors like Samsung and Microsoft have spent significant marketing budget on gaining an association with leading properties, Apple has differentiated itself in the category with an insular focus. Apple has rarely used celebrity endorsements in the past in favour of building equity in its own brand and products. Rather than attract consumers through the appeal of celebrity marketing, Apple has consistently developed creative that shows normal people doing amazing things with their products.

However, recent marketing efforts at Apple suggest a shift in the strategic approach. Today, consumers can see NBA All-Star Stephen Curry appear in a spot demonstrating the slow motion playback abilities of the iPhone 6S. They can see comedian Bill Hader promoting Apple’s new hands-free Siri. From musicians as the face of iTunes to Hollywood stars being used to launch new products, celebrities have become more commonplace across the brand’s marketing efforts.

MKTG examine Apple’s evolving relationship with sponsorship and celebrity endorsements; why did the world’s most powerful brand avoid it and what made them change their mind?

Factors Driving Apple towards Celebrity Usage:

1. Brand Life Stage: Like any brand, Apple’s marketing strategy has shifted over time to reflect its business environment and life stage. As an upstart brand seeking to find its voice, Apple introduced the “Think Different” brand promise. In the mid-2000’s, seeking to draw a head-to-head contrast with Microsoft, Apple rolled the “Hello. I’m a Mac” creative series. Throughout most of its history, regardless of the campaign currently in-market, Apple held a product-centric focus. The primary insight was that Apple made well-designed, easy-to-use product. Over many years, Apple has firmly established this positioning with consumers. No longer a challenger brand but a market leader, Apple spends less time educating consumers and more time trying to entertain and inspire them, opening the door for more usage of celebrity endorsement.   

2. New Leadership: Former CEO Steve Jobs was notorious for his strict oversight over the brand’s marketing activities. Jobs implemented a strategy in which the products were the heroes. His emphasis on design, innovation and simplicity were guiding principles of Apple branding during his tenure. And while these attributes remain integral to the Apple brand, executive succession at Apple has given rise to new executions of the strategy Jobs introduced. Current CEO Tim Cook’s approach to the brand and organization overall is inherently less product-obsessed and more open to external brand building activities. Under Cook, Apple has taken a more activist role in its CSR activity and has rolled out a number of Celebrity-driven marketing initiatives.

3. Rise in Competitive Threats: Apple has changed as an organization. They now compete across a larger number of industries (music, mobile, personal computer, watch, etc.) with a larger number of competitors. The space they operate in has naturally become more crowded, increasing the need for innovative marketing that differentiates the brand. Apple’s core competitors have also invested more and more in sponsorship over time. Samsung, Microsoft, HP and others have marquee deals that are used to showcase their thought leadership in technology and celebrity partnerships that help demonstrate an x-factor. The overall competitiveness in the category may have fueled a spirit of one-upmanship that drew Apple into the ring.

Top 5 Apple Celebrity Endorsements: As Apple has experimented with its usage of celebrity endorsers, some cases have worked better than others. MKTG picks our Top 5 Apple commercials featuring brand ambassadors:

Lake Bell / Apple Watch: The Hollywood actress appeared in a simple yet effective 15-second spot endorsing the Apple Watch. Bell is on a date when she was receives a message from her babysitter on the Apple Watch telling her child is fast asleep, giving her the peace of mind to continue her night. The story is relatable, the product’s functional benefits are clear, and the usage of Bell injects the spot with relevance.

Leon Bridges / Apple Music: In Fall 2015, Apple launched its “Discovery” series spotlighting emerging artists. Soul musician Leon Bridges was one of four artists featured in the online video series which was leveraged to promote Apple Music’s “Discovery” feature which gives users artist recommendations. Apple’s shift to a streaming-based music product has coincided with a concerted effort to position the brand as more than a music platform but a music influencer.

Bill Hader / Siri: Former SNL star Bill Hader appeared in a currently in-market iPhone 6s ad promoting the Siri personal assistant. The humorous spot was a departure from Apple’s typically aspirational tone and a moment for the brand to laugh at itself in a human moment.

Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake / iPhone 6: Fallon and Timberlake are known for partnering on SNL and The Tonight Show sketches. The duo also partnered with Apple on a series of ads in Fall 2014 promoting the iPhone 6. Although Apple is seeking to tap into the equity of two beloved stars, neither Fallon nor Timberlake are shown in the series. Their voices are recognizable though as they narrate a compelling product showcase.

Stephen Curry / Live Photos:  Apple has typically leveraged endorsers from the world of music & film, so 2014-15 NBA MVP Stephen Curry’s role in an ad promoting Live Photos represented the brand’s rare use of an athlete. Apple’s Live Photos feature lets users to take animated videos that similar to GIFs or short video clips. Curry, who plays for the Golden State Warriors in California, has Silicon Valley roots and it is a logical choice for a tech company. 

Celebrities are cool, exciting and attention-grabbing. The Apple logo for many years was all of those things on its own. Over time, as the brand has evolved and celebrities have played an important role in keeping the brand relevant. 

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