Apple’s ‘radical candour’ with agencies


When it comes to product development, Apple says ‘no’ more often than it says ‘yes’, an approach that encourages a culture of debate about how things can be improved – and this also plays into its marketing and its relationship with agencies, according to a senior executive.

“We call it radical candour – we just say exactly what we think,” Tor Myhren, vice president of marketing communications at Apple, told an audience at the recent Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

“That ‘meeting after the meeting’ where a lot of clients make decisions, that a lot of agencies aren’t invited to? We don’t have that,” he explained.

“We make our decisions at the table so everybody understands.” (For more, read WARC’s report: Apple’s secret to iconic marketing: keep it simple.)

That’s made simpler by the fact that Apple has worked with TBWA\Media Arts Lab for more than 20 years – it rarely uses other agencies – and has built a partnership based on trust.

And just as the tech giant’s unwritten product rules see it questioning everything and saying ‘no’ 1,000 times to get to any ‘yes’, so in marketing it practises what Myhren described as “the brutal art of reduction”.

“We squeeze all artifice out of the message,” he said. “You gotta sacrifice a lot of stuff to get to that one thing. You don’t need to bring in all those extras. Find the truth of the product.

“We strip it down to what matters. We talk about having a brief that’s so narrow, it’s like dancing on the head of a pin, because actually putting some restrictions and guard rails around creativity is really, really helpful.”

Apple, of course, has its own point of view on its products and how it wants the world to see them and doesn’t pre-test creative before release. “We trust our own creative instincts and our own creative taste,” Myhren said.

But, he added: “The truth is, we need an agency… we actually pay our agency for that objectivity, because sometimes it’s hard to get.”

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