Apple's magic lies in the 'single line', says marketing veteran

At the height of its marketing glory, Apple put more emphasis on the 'single line' to describe a product than longer TV spots, according to marketing veteran Allison Johnson.

Apple: most famous campaigns started with one-liners
Apple: most famous campaigns started with one-liners

Johnson served as vice-president of marketing for Apple for six years until 2011, working on campaigns such as ‘There’s an app for that’, ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’ and the launch of the iPad. She now runs her own agency, West.

If you could tell the story in a single line, we knew we had it and that we could build a communications platforms off that

The tech brand is famous for its taglines, and built some of its most loved campaigns around a one-liner rather than a creative idea, Johnson revealed.

Speaking at the Revolution: Festival of Ideas last week, Johnson said Apple’s marketing engine was geared to 25-week launch cycles.

"So 25 weeks out, you had to think about packaging, design photography and retail communications," she said. "Our job was to come to the room and focus on the line, what’s the single line that describes the story.

"If you could tell the story in a single line, we knew we had it and that we could build a communications platforms off that."

The last piece in the puzzle was the TV spot, she added.

"We were really thinking about the story – what is it in one line, what is it in three, what does it look like on TV. That discipline was important to us."

Johnson oversaw the creation of the ‘There’s an app for that’ campaign for the iPhone 3G in 2009.

She said Apple staffers were already using the phrase "in vernacular", and it was simply a case of turning it into a campaign.

The phrase itself stemmed from the unexpected emergence of a developer community for iOS. The first iPhone, released in 2007, didn’t feature third-party apps off the bat. Instead, the App Store arrived in 2009, along with the iPhone 3G.

"We were shocked," said Johnson. "We were unprepared for the app marketplace that developed.

"We had this tiny team, and very evidently thought there was no way there would be a developer community that could make good apps, so we would have to make them."

Apple initially wanted a six-person advisory board to filter every app. The App Store now has more than 1m apps available.

Johnson also revealed that Apple’s marketing team hadn’t known how to position the iPad – something the public picked up on at the time.

"We didn’t know if it was going to cannibalise the iPhone market, or MacBooks," she said. "We deliberately didn’t position it to see how people would use it."

In the end, Apple came up with "a magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price", something Johnson describes as rather flat. "I was like – are you kidding me?" she said. "A breakthrough product with that line?".