Last week’s Apple press conference seemed like a guarded trove of secrets. Sessions for the conference were given teasing names like “We Have To Keep This Quiet Still” and “Bet You Can’t Wait To Know,” while normally regular press releases were kept on lockdown. The Hype Machine was primed, whipping Apple’s user base and shareholders into a frenzy of anticipation.
Then the company went ahead and released the smartwatch. You know, the one that’s had a patent since 2011 and has been the focus of the entire device industry all year? And a bigger iPhone. Gosh, nobody saw that one coming.
Not to say that people didn’t go crazy anyway. But it seems as though, for many of these giant corporate systems, the idea of a “release conference” is becoming a little outdated.
In the age of information, no tech secret can avoid speculation and remain uncirculated for long. And perhaps, behind all the feigned closed doors, these companies may not even want their releases to remain undisclosed.
Case in point with Apple’s new developments. When your competitors include forces like Samsung, which has already covered practically every phone size and auxiliary device half a decade before you release your latest products, you need something to enhance the news a little. And nothing does that like a badly kept secret.
If Apple had gone ahead and officially announced the smartwatch a year ago, the news would have floated around for maybe a month. Diehard Apple fans would have lined up at the doors and gotten their devices for exorbitant launch prices, shareholders would have been appeased, and the company would have been on to its next project.
But merely hinting at a new product months before its release with dozens of half-acknowledgements and “we can neither confirm nor deny”-style statements? That changes an industry. Talk of the Apple smartphone lasted for almost a year, resurfacing with full fervor every time a new hint was dropped. Other companies jumped on the bandwagon, announcing their own plans for wearables and auxiliary devices.
And so even when the “new” news isn’t so, well, new, people still get excited enough to buy the thing before the reviews have even had half an hour to form.
What troubles me is that these strategies seem to be getting increasingly extreme.
Apple isn’t the only one that uses them – Samsung, Microsoft, and even Hollywood and the gaming industry all capitalize on the idea of “pre-investment” from their consumers.
This is the idea of you building up so much hype, so much anticipation, that people will buy your product directly on launch day (or well before, with pre-orders) before reviews and press have had time to surface and spoil your image.
This can be a double-edged sword if your product ends up so far behind the hype that it receives more backlash than the excitement can buoy. But the marketing process is so advanced at this point that these negatives seem to be fairly rare – even mediocre products are being sold by the millions once the media train gets built enough.
This isn’t good for the consumer. Hell, it might not even be good for the industry. But it’s hard to stop something that relies simply on the exchange of information, which is notoriously difficult to stop once it’s gotten momentum.
All that can be said is an encouragement to not submit to the Hype Machine. No matter how excited you are, it won’t be as good as you think. And rabid enthusiasm over the web isn’t going to do anyone any favors.
Copeland is a member of the class of 2015.