Apple Can Be Great Or It Can Be Google – but It Can’t Be Both

Who will advocate for the user in Apple’s advertising campaigns?

Apple has long positioned itself in opposition to Google. Google is primarily an advertising company whose customers are ad purchasers, whereas Apple’s customers are those who purchase Apple products and services. Despite their many apparent similarities, they are actually quite distinct.

However, Apple appears to be interested in becoming somewhat more like Google. Bloomberg reported in August that Apple Vice President of Advertising Todd Teresi aspires to more than double the company’s current $4 billion in annual ad revenue, into the double digits of billions.

I am not among those who believe that advertising is inherently evil. (I have spent my entire career working for advertising-supported media properties, including this one.) But I do wonder if Apple’s pursuit of advertising revenue is indicative of a culture that has lost sight of what makes Apple great.

Good ads, bad ads

Although reasonable people may disagree, I do not believe that advertisements are negative. Ads can be terrible, but they can also be informative, entertaining, and useful if they are for products you are interested in, properly labeled as advertisements, and do not interfere with your experience.

Apple added poor advertisements to the App Store last month. In a move so universally reviled that Apple quickly retreated and halted the practice, the company began inserting irrelevant advertisements for a few relatively unsavory apps on various App Store app pages. The app developers, for whom the App Store is their only option, were furious.

Then came reports that Apple is preparing to sell advertisements during its 2019 broadcasts of Major League Soccer, as well as reports that Apple is considering placing advertisements on Apple TV+. I’m significantly less outraged by these reports, in part because sports advertising is already fairly prevalent and almost every major streaming platform now offers a cheaper tier with advertisements and a more expensive tier without them.

Then there are troubling reports, such as that one from Bloomberg, which suggests that Apple may add advertisements to its Maps, Podcasts, and Books apps, in addition to the advertisements already present in News and Stocks. I find it difficult to believe that these would be effective advertisements.

So, if there are both good and bad advertisements, who determines which is which? This is, in my opinion, the most important question regarding the modern Apple. Is his name Todd Teresi?

Todd is not the devil

Since the initial Bloomberg report, a large number of Apple observers have spent months demonizing Todd Tersi. They are in error. Here, Todd Teresi is not the issue. He’s a sales guy. Advertising is included in his job title. He is undoubtedly evaluated based on the amount of advertising revenue his team generates for Apple, so he will work as hard as he can to find spaces on Apple’s products where he can place advertisements and earn more money.

Who else factors into the equation? Who determines when Teresi and his team have reached their limit? Who argues for the user experience, weighing the needs of Apple’s brand identity and customer satisfaction scores against a deal that will make using Apple Maps or Apple Podcasts slightly more difficult for a small increase in cash flow?

This is my main concern. Years ago, it was my responsibility to advocate for the user experience over incremental ad revenue. (Let me tell you, there is no place lonelier than arguing that a struggling publishing company should turn down money for fear of compromising intangible concepts such as “user experience” or “product quality.”)

I’ve witnessed firsthand how people like Todd Teresi will sell every available square inch if given the opportunity. It is their duty. You may as well order a star to cease shining. It is essential to have someone who can say no.

In light of Apple’s actions over the past few months and the Bloomberg report, I’m beginning to question whether or not this individual exists at Apple. No, let me rephrase that: I am confident that individual exists. I’m sure there are still Apple employees who champion the user experience and recognize its importance to Apple’s brand perception and customer satisfaction, as well as the difficulty of regaining them once they are lost.

I have my doubts that whoever is in a position of authority is paying attention. Moreover, if Tim Cook values customer satisfaction so much that he frequently cites “customer sat” research figures, his company should have a culture that prevents ad salespeople from trading customer sat for relatively little.

What does Apple stand for?

To return to the original point, Apple is not Google. In spite of this, it appears to be pursuing an advertising business in a manner so haphazard that it risks destroying products and alienating both its users and its developers. Advertising is not always negative, but Teresi and his team are not in the business of determining this. Someone else must remember the big picture and learn to say no. (Was it not Steve Jobs who said, “You must say ‘no, no, no?”)

Someone at Apple needs perspective, or they must listen to and empower those who already possess it. Apple generated nearly $400 billion in revenue during its fiscal year 2022. Bloomberg reports that Apple’s current business is $4 billion, which is approximately one percent of the total. Is it valuable? (I would argue that the same dynamic is at play in Apple’s increasingly intrusive marketing within its apps.)

If Teresi achieves his reported goal of $10 billion in ad revenue, he will have created a business that is roughly a third the size of Apple’s iPad business, the smallest of the company’s five revenue categories. I’m not saying $10 billion is chump change. It is objectively a substantial sum of money. In comparison to the other $400 billion or more that Apple will earn in its next fiscal year, it will fall short.

There are both good and bad advertisements. And to protect Apple’s brand and products from misleading advertisements, someone in charge must have perspective and be able to distinguish between the two. Apple’s reputation and the reputation of its products are at stake. It would be unfortunate for the company to ruin itself for such a negligible revenue increase.

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