A few years ago, the Durex Condom Company started co-branding with various “good” companies. Among them was a car manufacturer, who touted their cars were “as safe as Durex condoms”. Needless to say, the whole contraption flopped miserably, despite a rather warm reception from the ad crowd — a group to which I am sometimes told I belong. Now, the Apple+Nike campaign sounds like a good idea in many aspects but, for some reason, I can’t help equating it with the defunct Durex+ efforts. (Note the effective use of a mathematical operator underlining the close relationship existing between both corporate DNAs in a symbiotic, market-empowering, consumer-centered fashion.)
To me, to us, Apple has always stood for quality, reliability and luxury, more than it ever stood for coolness. Indeed, I do not believe any of us Mac users would bother using a Mac if the machines were flimsy or the operating system of poor quality. Hey, Samsung is cool, Sony is cool (OK, was) and I know the Gateway boxes enjoy a fetish following. The fact Apple is now “cool” again certainly is an added bonus but many of us have, during the dark years, endured laughter and beige boxes because they simply was nothing to replace them — a good friend of mine to whom I once lent my PowerMac G3 beige still uses it on a daily basis for production work.
With the Apple+Nike promotion, both companies send a very clear signal: we care a lot about brands, products will follow. Indeed, I cannot, for the life of me, see what would tempt anyone to purchase an iPod sports kit. I cannot even see the rationale behind the designing of such a product, beyond a pure branding exercise. Sure, carrying an iPod and a pedometer means carrying two devices. But an Apple+Nike kit means, if I understood that well, three devices: the iPod, the adapter and the sensor. Plus special shoes. Plus armband or adapted iPod securing gear. Of course, the audio feedback and the custom graphs are a nice touch but, in this world of too much information, do I really want to open yet another account somewhere? Most definitely not. Even if the Panic offices are featured in the ad, which does up its class level a good bit.
Now, I have nothing against Nike — maybe I should, I really don’t know. I certainly don’t have anything against Apple either. In this case however, it seems to me some pseudo-cool technology was invented to cover up a simple brand association. Costs are reasonable — at least to anyone already owning an iPod nano and Nike running shoes — and I applaud Apple for having added text-to-speech technology to the iPod, not to mention wireless capabilities — even if they are for now confined to an adapter. But really, a pedometer? An Apple branded pedometer? It makes just about the same amount of sense to me than the Durex car: sure, I see why it is a good idea on paper but there is something unnatural about it that oozes PR.
Of course, there is an added issue at play. When I say “Nike”, you think tacky luxury, gangster rap, gold chains, R&B music and new chic. When I say “Apple”, you think zen attitude, understated elegance and a touch of class. Both Nike and Apple have heavily invested in their respective brands and made them both into “cool” ones. But, by doing so, they have also made them fundamentally incompatible, at least in my humble opinion and experience. To me, Nike would be better off with Alienware and Apple with American Apparel — in terms of image here, nothing more.
As an added proof of the disconnect between Nike and Apple, I’d like to point out the NikePlus (Sorry, Nike+) website is filled with “Coming Soon” links, including those that point to the iTunes Music Store — and not especially to a special iTunes section. Really, what does launching a site “in construction” means, and especially when the part of your site you haven’t yet finished is the one at the very core of your message?
Finally, this promotion hints at a broader issue: the iPod is a computer, and a portable one at that. It has a battery, a screen, an input device and an expansion port. It’s limitless. As the great many existing add-ons have proved, only common sense separates us from a car-key iPod, a toaster iPod and a Pez dispenser iPod — spitting out candy according to the beat of the tune played, black licorice Pez optional, web-based sugar consumption counter available upon simple registration.
We’ll see how it goes. I certainly am not going to make any predictions and I hope to get a chance to test the system sometime to better make up my mind. So far however, I’m inclined to think a swoosh and an Apple were not meant to marry. Has anyone ever heard of a Swoosh Pie anyway?