Marketing Pilgrim's Reputation Channel

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Apple’s Defensive Tactics Under Fire

Maybe Apple is experimenting with trying to keep online buzz alive around a product even if it is turning negative despite it being one of the most successful product launches in the esteemed company’s history. It appears that rather than quieting the critics following last Friday’s “Antennagate” show press conference, Steve Jobs’ comments that dragged every smartphone producer into the ‘blocked signal’ fray are creating quite a stir.

cnet gives us a summary in two separate articles of the responses coming from smartphone manufacturers in the four corners. The first let’s us know how Blackberry manufacturer RIM feels

RIM co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie made their feelings rather clear.

Their statement began: “Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years.”

Another cnet article shows gives a glimpse into how HTC and Samsung feel about everything.

Hui-Meng Cheng, chief financial officer at HTC, told The Wall Street Journal on Monday that “the reception problems are certainly not common among smartphones,” and a representative from Samsung said that it “hasn’t received significant customer feedback on any signal reduction issue for the Omnia 2,” one of the phones that Apple singled out as suffering from similar reception issues if held in a way that blocks the antenna.

So for the students of online reputation monitoring and management (and offline as well) the question is “Should pointing the finger at others who allegedly have the same problem as you do be used as a way to handle a reputation situation?”

Steve Jobs effectively dragged every other cell phone manufacturer into this and tried to make the issue at hand (pun completely intended) something that is endemic to the industry and not just Apple. It can come off in two ways:

1. An ingenius attempt to spin everything to say that that “Sure the technology is imperfect across the board so don’t get mad at Apple because we are all in the same boat. Just look past this and remember that Apple products are the best money can buy”

or

2. This is truly annoying and unnecessary because our product is great and doesn’t deserve this treatment so we’ll just push off our problem on the industry as a whole and drag everyone down in the process.

Personally, I don’t have any skin in the game so I can see both sides happening but I will say that neither is very desirable from an ORM perspective. People don’t like whining and finger pointing in general. Sure it happens every day and everyone does it in their lives but when an iconic public figure like Steve Jobs does it the effect is that all the fingers get pointed at him and not for good reasons.

All in all this whole mess should have been avoided by official statements earlier in the process but Apple doesn’t seem to operate under the normal rules of engagement. Honestly, it makes sense that they might feel above it all because they generally do a better job than most companies in the marketplace.

Of course, pride goeth before the fall and Apple is just as know for its hubris as it is for its products.

So where do you fall in all of this? Did pointing the finger at the rest of the industry make this whole thing better or just exacerbate an already tricky situation? Maybe an informal poll here from the Pilgrims can put to rest whether Antennagate is a thing of the past or the start of something bigger.

So which is it?

  • http://www.circleoneconnect.com/ C.A. Simmons

    I think that Steve was out of line for dragging other brands into this Apple mess because if these other brands suffered these same issues the public would have known about it. His deflection was blatant and didn’t fool anyone. But that’s what happens when you have a brand that through it’s success hasn’t figured out what to do when things go technologically wrong.

    Jobs is basically saying (arrogantly I might add) that:

    “We’re Apple; makers of all things great. If we have antenna issues then certainly everyone else must have them. We’re infallible so this isn’t an Apple problem, it’s an industry problem.”

    Bad PR move but I will like to give credit for the way they remedied the issue though. A simple solution to potentially catastrophic issue using bumpers which every hi-end phone should have anyway.

  • Mark Curzon

    Not a great response but I suspect Jobs was trying to be scientific in a non-scientific world. This whole debacle is about reputation and feelings about a brand, not to do with any real or imagined failings in the product. After all, it appears that these new phones are not being returned in their droves, most people are keeping them and whatever sideshows go on with Steve Jobs, Apple the brand or some media types with loud voices (and they really are sideshows) it is still selling like hotcakes.

    RIM and HTC had to say what they did to protect their own brands and they also know that Apple has to shut up now as the science of phones struggling to maintain reception with their tiny internal aerials will not be heard nor accepted by a non-scientific press. So it is now open season on Apple, who wont care too much however as the success of the product speaks louder. This is probably the calculated risk Jobs has made.

    Jobs’ comparison was unfortunate but necessary and it is only mild comfort that he chose other successful products to compare with his own. Imagine the baying and howling if he’d chosen some really cheap ones that cannot compete with an iPhone!

  • Ann Williams

    Bad form on the part of Jobs, pure and simple. Any psych 1 student could pinpoint that massive ego Jobs overwhelming the “scientific” businessman Jobs. In the end, it isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference. The Apple legend moves ever forward, growing more mythical daily and King Steve may have lost a round at the table for a bit there, but this too, shall pass.

  • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

    Great points all. I suspect that as far a being any damage it would be nominal at best. With the speed that everything happens at these days there will be another big issue somewhere else that will be the new shiny object and attract everyone’s attention. Meanwhile Apple will continue to sell a lot of iPhone 4′s and suffer little if any backlash.

    What this does do however to Steve Jobs personally is become part of his legacy and historical record. People may look back on some of his techniques in retrospect and question things. It’s likely that Steve will be long gone by that point though so what’s he have to worry about, right?

  • Dean

    With the God-Complex that comes with being a very successful and revered company comes the inability to simply say “We screwed up but we will make it right”.

    As far as dragging the other companies in the mud with you – its not unlike the defense a 10 year old gives when caught throwing rocks at someone’s window – “But Bobby and Billy were doing it too”. Pathetic. Jobs could have turned it into a win by simply admitting fault and fixing the problem (as they ultimately did) Taking jabs at the competition was juvenile.

  • http://www.ladykingdom.com/ lady kingdom

    Waw, great overview about Apple

    It’s so interesting

  • http://todhd.com TODHD

    Apple definitely needs ramp up on their security measures before they get into some serious trouble

  • Jacob

    This seems to be Apple’s approach anytime they are criticized. They can take shots at PC all they want, poke fun at windows, etc. but when something goes wrong and exposes them as lacking in any way, they get VERY VERY defensive and in my opinion, try to point the finger elsewhere and claim that they’re not the problem, but rather it is the industry standard that is the issue.

    Look at Steve Job’s reaction to Adobe’s criticism for Apple’s complete refusal to support Flash plug-ins on all of their mobile devices. When they came under attack for this, Jobs released a letter, basically slamming Adobe and it came across like the school bully who got called out in front of the school, and rather than accept their own deficiencies as being true, they resort to schoolyard tactics of pointing out the flaws of others to take the attention away from their own problems. One could argue that Adobe was instrumental in helping to build Apple’s reputation as being great machines for artists and graphic designers…but now that their brand and image has stretched far beyond this, they are so quick to turn their back on a software company that really helped them be an industry standard for graphic arts, back when no one gave a sh*t about Apple.

    I thought it was low of Apple to drag other phones into this as if to say “well, they have a crappy antenna too!!!!…and so do they and so do they…see we’re not the only ones” That’s like me having a weight problem and people telling me to lose weight..instead of just focusing on my issue and fixing my weight problem, I point fingers at all of the other obese people around me? Come on Apple! Stop getting so defensive and just fix your phone. The reason you’re getting called out the most for this issue is because you go out and beat your chest the most about how you have the greatest mobile devices in the world. Don’t get all pissy if someone calls you out when something doesn’t work the way it should. Do something about it. Everyone already talks about how great you are, but one bit of criticism and you’re all up in arms. Chill.

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  • http://attentionbubble.blogspot.com Niall O’Malley

    Essentially negative PR (when a company mentions by name a competitor) has risk associated with it. Sometimes, on balance, it is a risk worth taking (especially if your competitors behave in a benign way in the media). However, the mobile space is far from benign. I think you could assume that Apple thought it had little to lose in this situation (a mistake as it impacts the holisitic Apple brand not just the iPhone).

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