Apple Crowned Marketer of the Decade: Here’s Why

AdAge bestowed a major honor on Apple (s aapl) on Monday, naming it the first marketer of the decade for this millennium. There’s no denying that Apple’s brand is stronger than ever right now, but how did it get there, and can it stay that way?

Apple won Marketer of the Year only once in the past ten years, but it was also a contender for the top honor nearly every year this decade, according to AdAge. The marketing publication cites many reasons for its victory, among them the launch of iAd, and the continued success of its brick-and-mortar stores.

Maybe the most significant piece of marketing savvy shown by Apple during the past year was its management of the “Antennagate” scandal that threatened to tarnish its highly polished quality control reputation. Jobs and Co. avoided disastrous and long-lasting effects by offering free cases to affected customers, while at the same time, not actually admitting that there was anything really wrong with the device through clever double-speak.

The Advertising Legacy

If you want to talk about the last decade as a whole, though, you have to look back to its earlier marketing moves that have become so iconic. Remember the iPod silhouette ads? They debuted in Oct. 2003, and became iconic enough to inspire countless spoofs. The ads also featured songs, often by relatively unknown artists. Being picked as the track for an iPod commercial could make your career. Apple’s marketing could incidentally make a musician successful.

And if it’s entertaining ad campaigns you’re after, it’s hard to do better than Apple’s “Get a Mac” ads, known by the “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” tagline used in each. Though Apple dropped this campaign last year, it began in 2006, and more than 70 ads appeared in the series. Justin Long and John Hodgman, who played Mac and PC respectively, became more widely recognized for these roles than for their parts in film and television shows. Timed as they were to take advantage of the disaster that was Windows Vista (s msft), they probably did more for the Mac’s growth than anything had before.

Last, but not least, is Apple’s “There’s an app for that,” the company’s recently certified trademark, which became synonymous with Apple’s App Store, and by extension, with the iPhone. It’s also possibly the most parodied and reused tagline in history, at least measured in terms of blog and newspaper article headlines, and derivative marketing campaigns.

The Brand

Say what you will about Apple; it’s done amazing things to secure its brand identity. The phenomenon of the fanboy is a well-documented one, and has even prompted attention from filmmakers. The loyalty Apple users feel for their preferred electronics vendor is unmatched by any other group.

Why does Apple attract such adamant defenders? I’d argue that it’s their continued commitment to quality. Apple won’t release a product that it thinks feels or seems cheap, no matter what the revenue benefits would be. The company’s never even tried something like starting an offshoot budget brand, as HP has with its Compaq acquisition. And say what you will about the iPhone 4’s antenna problems, but it’s still far and away the best phone I’ve ever owned.

That commitment to quality is closely tied to Apple’s customer service. Both on the phone and in person at the Apple Store, the resources the company has dedicated to making all of its representative-customer interactions as pleasant as possible has really paid off. Of course, there are exceptions, and people will no doubt cite many examples of poor service from Apple reps. But on the whole, AppleCare provides far less reason to complain than do many similar services offered by its competitors.

Jobs Himself

As we saw yesterday, a large part of Apple’s marketing success can be attributed to its charismatic leader, Steve Jobs. He seems to be unable to censor himself in direct interactions, something reflected in the famous Steve Jobs personal email replies that may or may not actually come from Apple’s PR department. Whether or not they do is besides the point.

Steve Jobs is part celebrity and part CEO. Even while maintaining an air of mystery and insisting on absolute secrecy regarding future product releases, he seems also to be available to customers and without a filter on his personal feelings. It’s an odd combination that’s obviously a winner with consumers, and it garners Apple a lot of press (see the thousands of articles about yesterday’s quarterly conference call circulating the web if you needed any more proof).

Can it Carry On?

So that’s how Apple achieved its place of prominence as Marketer of the Decade. But can it continue to reign? That’ll depend on its ability to maintain a high level of success with its advertising, brand and yes, even its CEO.

The advertising has already taken a turn for the worse, in my opinion. Apple seems unwilling to go out on a ledge and poke at rivals (plus it’s becoming the big fish anyway, and it looks bad to knock the competition from on high) or even to celebrate what makes it different by using indie acts for background music. The sentimentality of the FaceTime ads seems to be missing the edge that got Apple to where it is now. Maybe Apple’s customer base, as it ages, will appreciate the new direction, but I’m afraid it could lead to even more vanilla offerings.

Where Apple is safest is its brand image. Products continue to come out that provide a very high level of user experience, with relatively few frustrations. The iPad is a great recent example, as is the iPhone 4 if you leave aside for a second any antenna issues.

As for continuing to have an enigmatic and charismatic corporate leader who also provides a great public face for the company, that’s completely up in the air. Steve Jobs is obviously one of a kind, but it’s possible the corporate culture he’s fostered at Apple will produce a worthy successor from within the ranks.

What do you think is the main reason for Apple’s marketing success? Any or all of the above, or something not listed here?

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