As a PR person, I found early reviews of the iPhone X to be absolutely fascinating.
It wasn’t necessarily the reviews themselves that fascinated me— those were as expected — but rather the strategy behind the announcement.
To date, Apple has had a pretty standard template for its iPhone reviews that’s become predictable: seed review units to tier one reporters (Wall Street Journal, NY Times, USA Today, etc.) and have the embargo lift the Tuesday before availability. It’s a template that’s worked very well in nearly every respect. It doesn’t hurt to be backed by a pretty solid product, too.
After today, however, it’s clear that there is a new sheriff in the Apple PR department who’s looking to mix things up more than a little bit.
It started yesterday with Steven Levy’s review; they actually gave him a one day “exclusive.” I believe that Walt Mossberg has had similar such exclusives in the past, but generally he was allowed to break his news hours early, not days. But still, I get this strategy: it’s a nod to nostalgia. And if anyone deserved such an exclusive, it’s Steven Levy. So it is a bit of a departure but not that far off the reservation.
But then, they seeded review units to influencers and YouTubers. YouTubers! They picked people with names like booredatwork.com, uravgconsumer, and highsnobiety (the only one I was familiar with).
I guess I can understand wanting to reach the YouTube generation — I have a teenage daughter and son and understand this is how their generation gets its news — but this is a $1,000 product we are talking about! Doesn’t seem to match up with their audience in the slightest, in terms of buying power.
Also odd? They seeded a number of their traditional targets but they only gave them units 24 hours in advance of the embargo. Twenty-four hours! That to me makes zero sense unless they are trying to obfuscate something. Which in my opinion, might be Face ID. It’s the only theory I can come up with. Why else would they risk the wrath of their “friendlies”? And some, like Gruber of Daring Fireball and Brian Chen of New York Times, were indeed miffed.
So, interesting stuff. Especially if you’re a combined tech geek in the PR industry such as myself.
Takeaways? For starters, this is a good reminder that PR practitioners should not get too married to convention. We should always push ourselves to think of different and creative approaches to product launches. No one was more successful in the past with their strategy than Apple, and yet they weren’t afraid to challenge convention with their most important product announcement in years. We should think similarly.
This might actually be a “jump the shark” moment in which influencers supersede traditional tier one media in terms of significance. The new world media order may very well have been just established. While we look at influencers as part of all our product announcements, it’s something we now should be looking at even more carefully.
So, those are my initial thoughts. This, in my opinion, has been one of the more interesting product announcements in recent memory. One thing is for certain though: for better or worse, with this announcement Apple has definitely lived up to their “Think Different” monicker.