Why Apple’s New Designed in California Ads are Strategic for the USA

by Tim Bajarin   |   July 4th, 2013

There was a recent report that Apple’s current “Designed in California” ads were not a hit with consumers and various writers who reported on this urged Apple to change them and to start bringing out cool ads again.
While the ads may not seem cool to some, for Apple these ads are very strategic and will run as long as it takes for Apple to hit home the message that the fruit of Apple’s labor starts here and regardless of where they are manufactured, these are American bred products.

Apple has always been proud of the fact that they are an American company and more specifically, a major force in the growth of Silicon Valley that for decades has been and still remains the epicenter of all things tech. This ad helps reinforce the idea that Silicon Valley is not going away and in fact will continue to be a major tech design center well into the future.

But I also believe that Apple has been reading the tea leaves and has seen how Congress and many of the American people are going down a track to try and bring more manufacturing back to the US. They also understand that creating US designed products will be more strategic to the USA’s long term vision of making the US much more relevant in a time of globalization.

You may think that I am crazy suggesting this, but even Apple’s competitors are seeing that if the products are designed and manufactured over here that they may be seen more favorably by consumers. More importantly, it could give them favor with the US government and the American people who are getting more and more concerned that the US is loosing its edge, especially to S. Korea and China.

The Japanese car makers have been doing this for years. Besides doing a lot of actual manufacturing in US cities, a lot of the actual design work is being done here as well. They just don’t tout it like Apple is doing with the “designed in California” campaign.

Interestingly, Samsung, who is Apple’s biggest competitor these days, is moving more and more development to California. They are adding a huge extension to their San Jose Campus and building up their research center in Palo Alto. They are expected to hire more than 2000 hardware and software engineers in Silicon Valley to populate these new facilities over the next two years.

If US consumers, the US government, and US companies start emphasizing the new battle cry “designed in the USA” to bolster their position in the face of the globalization challenge, Samsung could soon say that their products too are “designed in California.” But this is where Apple has a gotcha for Samsung.

Not only is Samsung a S. Korean company, but as a S. Korean company they are very nationalistic. Can you imagine Samsung US trying to convince their top corporate execs to launch a Samsung ad campaign stating “Designed in the US or CA” and getting their OK for this ad? Not happening.

Google is also following Apple’s lead and taking it a step further and through their Motorola division, just started running ads that say that your smartphone can even be designed by you and will be made in the USA.

Neither of these companies are doing this because they recently caught some nationalistic fever. Both realize that globalization is a much bigger threat to the US and their own markets and that is time to be very clear that the USA is still top dog when it comes to its role in the tech market and that people from around the world need to value this fact. Apple is also leading the charge to bring at least some of their manufacturing back to the US and will make the new Mac Pro in Austin, Texas.

With these ads, Apple is positioning themselves as a leader in this “USA Designed” category of products that I am hearing Washington is quite fond of. I also expect these ads to influence more US based companies who design products in the US to soon emphasize this fact too. Apple is just ahead of this trend and leading the charge.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • grwisher

    “Apple is just ahead of this trend and leading the charge.”
    As usual.

  • FalKirk

    “…for Apple these ads are very strategic and will run as long as it takes for Apple to hit home the message that the fruit of Apple’s labor starts here and regardless of where they are manufactured, these are American bred products.”

    This is a great insight. Product ads are tactical devices. Branding ads are strategic in nature. And Apple’s ads extend far beyond mere branding to address China, Korea, the U.S. Public and the U.S. Congress, as well.

    Nice post, Tim. Very nicely done.

  • Defendor

    Regardless of the message. They simply aren’t well executed IMO. Slow plodding and dreary isn’t the way to beat the patriotic drum.

    Also considering how divided the US is internally, I am not sure how well, playing up their designed in California roots will play out in the rest the states like Texas.

    They are also just pointless running on local Canadian TV, up here.

    Apple is starting to feel more like a Post-Gates Microsoft all the time.

    • benbajarin

      Perhaps this is just the beginning of a messaging trend from Apple. Time will tell but given how intentional they are in much of their messaging, I have to assume that including that bit about CA is somehow strategic.

    • Brian M. Monroe

      I agree that “designed in California” may not play well in all other states in the USA as most states do not want to be like California. But I have to believe that they know this as well as the rest of us and I am with Ben on the fact that they are doing this as more of a longer term strategy for both marketing and branding. Naming the next OS X Mavericks opens the door to many other options and also keeps the competitors guessing as there are many landmarks in California to name future OS X after. Also, if for some reason a name slips out to the public they will not know if it is a real one, fake one or maybe one that is 2 or 3 products ahead.

      One thing my friends have said and I agree with them is that the 1st indicator that things are not right with Apple will be their Ad’s. So we will have to wait and see if this works well or not.

      • AdamChew

        So what do you think the dancing ads for Surface are doing for MS, a sign of doom or the next great thing.

        • Brian M. Monroe

          I think that the dancing Surface ads where a huge mistake. All they do is show how the type/touch pad can connect using magnets but they do not show what the device can do that is unique. If they where to show off some of the good things about Windows RT that would have been much better. As it currently stands, Microsoft has stalled and the market is moving on without them. It used to be that you had to run Windows and Microsoft Office. But the next decade will be filled with many devices that will run various different OS’s and apps that will not be made by Microsoft. They are way behind on a touch version of Microsoft Office and with the ARM chips there is a rebooting of technology so that we can start anew and not have to carry the bagage of the past that has caused many problems such as complexity, security, battery life that are being resolved now by not maintaing 100% backward compatibility to the past.

          The Ad’s that I do like are the BlackBerry ads that show the screen sharing that can be done between BlackBerry devices. This is a plus and will help IT departments support users and screen sharing is the new hot things to do in desktop support. Now that is a reason for an IT department to not totally abandon BlackBerry. But I am not sure that will end up being enough as BYOD is real and many users are bringing in iPhones and Android phones that will need to be supported.

          • Defendor

            Pretty much the whole Surface/Win8 Billion dollar+ ad campaign was a flop. It certainly didn’t drive sales and I think it may have alienated traditional windows buyers. I dont’ think I saw a single advert for Windows 8/Surface that actually showed it running in desktop mode.

            As such it may have given the impression that Windows 8 was a Tile OS, for tablets and touch screen devices, not really for laptops/desktops.

          • Brian M. Monroe

            Yep. Microsoft keeps messing up. I do not see any reorg fixing it until Steve Balmer steps down and someone new is able to get in and make the changes that are badly needed and that the market is ready for. The real problem for Microsoft is that they have not really had to market Windows or Office before to actual end users. Their customers are people like big OEM’s like Dell, HP, Toshiba and Big Businesses that purchase volume licenses. Consumers are completely different.

            Their 1st mistake was Windows Vista where they dropped the simple My Documents folder for a complex Library concept where it was not really clear to most of their users where their files actually live. Not only that but for businesses that only really have documents and not media it is a complete failure.

            Now they are doing it again with the New Look/Metro UI stuff. Once again putting more clutter and junk in from of the user that keeps them from getting the tasks that they want to get done. Then you add in the dyslexic switching between Metro and Desktop and you have lots of users that are confused as to where you make changes to settings and how to get things done. I am sure that history will show that Apple’s approach to keep desktop and mobile separate will be what wins out in the marketplace.

            Also, yes. They have completely pissed off users that want to upgrade to a newer version of Windows but they end up getting Windows 8 not because they want it but because their current hardware dies or gets a virus that is just cheeper to dich the computer and replace it than try and wrestle install disks out of the greedy OEM’s that will screw you if you just want an insal CD/DVD.

        • Viswakarma

          Microsoft has no taste! — Steve Jobs

    • filecat13

      One man’s “slow plodding and dreary” is another’s “thoughtful, reflective, and proud.” We get enough chest-thumping, often by people who don’t do anything of value for the nation except exercise their right to free speech. We don’t get enough “let’s slow down and think for a minute, who we are, what we stand for, and why we do things.”

      The false notion that the USA is divided is driven by expediency from cynical politicians, hyped media clowns, right-wing and left-wing nuts, and religious bigots. In reality, wherever I go in the United States I find lots of thoughtful, hardworking, and proud Americans. Our shared values far outnumber our small differences, except at the fringes.

      When I’m looking for products to buy, Texas, Michigan, Vermont, California, or Hawai’i all mean the same thing to me: USA. Also, I hope you don’t mind that I’ll buy Canadian when I can, whether from Quebec, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, or wherever.

      Your last sentence has no value. Relax. Slow down. It’ll be all right.

      • Defendor

        The main issue I have is not the new emphasis on designed in California.

        It is the quality of the ad, which is just poor by Historical Apple standards.

        And my last sentence refers to Apple losing it’s edge. Things seems a bit off ( iOS 7, Ads). It feels like they are more coasting on inertia, just like Post-Gates Microsoft.

        • FalKirk

          “… Things seems a bit off ( iOS 7, Ads). It feels like they are more coasting…” – Defendor

          iOS 7 is anything but coasting. Give it until November and then let’s re-visit iOS 7 together.

          • Defendor

            What could possibly change for iOS 7 app design language before shipping? The direction is set, and it is the target App developers are getting from Apple for the new apps under development.

            It is really too late to change the design language again before shipping.

            The white web page motif, with colored text controls, is a choice (poor one IMO) we will be stuck with, for some time to come.

          • benbajarin

            Ok, a hypothetical. I still think offering themes is a good idea for this OS. So for the sake of argument, let’s say that this happens and you can select from a plethora of elegant first and third party themes for iOS 7. The functionality is universal so the new multi-tasking, control center, notifications etc, all stay the same but you can get a visual look more in line with your preferences. Again all functionality stays the same.

            Would that change your perspective?

          • DesDizzy

            And your qualifications for this critique are???

      • Viswakarma

        Well said!!!

        Hurray!!!

    • Space Gorilla

      Well, your opinion is no surprise given your bias.

  • David Politis

    Love the piece and the thinking, Tim. Thanks.

    That said, I believe there may be another entirely different reason behind such an advertising/branding approach for Apple and other U.S.-based companies, and that is the “legal definition” of what constitutes a Made in America product. Based upon the regulations established by the Trade Agreements Act (TAA), Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and the Buy American Act (BAA), governmental entities are often restricted to seek out products that are Made in America. And, unfortunately (at least in the case of most I.T. hardware products, what determines if something is “made” in the U.S. comes down to a very high percentage of ALL components actually being manufactured in the USofA.

    So . . . even though a product is “assembled in the U.S.,” it does NOT qualify as being “Made in the U.S.” because the majority of its components — think transistors, resistors, diodes, comms ports, etc. — were built overseas. Therefore, the product does NOT qualify (in most cases) for sale to the government as a Made in the U.S.A. product, even though it was invented here, designed here and assembled here.

    These are some of the most asinine governmental regulations I have EVER learned about, but if our company (Xi3 Corporation) had not faced the very issue recently, I would have never known such knuckleheaded thinking existed.

    Credit to Apple for its “Designed by Apple in California” campaign. I like it.

    Interestingly, Google is right behind Apple with its new “Designed by You. Assembled in the USA.” campaign for its forthcoming Moto X phone.

    • iDad

      Agree with the article.

      But i think there is another dynamic at work here that influences the focus on California rather than US. Globalisation also means that the future expanding markets for key products n the Apple range eg iPhone are in China the Far and Middle East and at some point, Africa. To be honest, not all these markets are US friendly.

      A focus on California, which does have the Silicon Valley and Hollywood Movie industry street cred across the world, is a must better global marketing angle than US.

      Essentially, Apple are playing to both sets of markets (in and outside US) with a California theme. Very. Very clever.

  • http://geekfun.com/ Erik S.

    For what it is worth, back in the mid-to-late-1980′s, the japanese car companies may not have been advertising that they were doing a lot of design work in the US, but it seems like there was a PR effort to communicate that message, because I remember it being mentioned in a lot of articles in the car enthusiast magazines I read back then.

  • slipstream

    It’s also not a coincidence that Apple switched OS X naming from big cats to locations in California (beginning with Mavericks). It’s part of a concerted effort to emphasize their California roots. Its aim goes beyond the nationalistic subtext (although that is there, undoubtedly) and draws upon an image of California as a place of innovation.

    • Space Gorilla

      Yes, I don’t expect a big Made in the USA push, but rather California, which has its own unique brand worldwide, from pop culture, music, film, art, tourism, and more. California is magical, the US, not so much.

      • airmanchairman

        It is said that if the state of California were to be an independent sovereign nation, its economy would be around the seventh largest in the world.

        Yeah, that CalifornIA…

  • Fairfact

    Now this would be a really powerful tag line…

    Designed by Apple in California…
    and Proudly Made in the USA

    • Brian M. Monroe

      I like it! I think it works even better and would translate better to other anti-California states like Texas.

    • Viswakarma

      This would be next when the Mac Pro is released!!!

    • sir1963nz

      Less so for the 8 Billion or so people who are NOT in the US.
      But it may be that they too will start looking for local products over those “Made in the USA”

      It is a doubled edged sword. And given that Apple now sells more product outside the US it will be a dangerous sword to wield , particularly with the revelations about various government spying, Made in the USA may be greeted with the great deal of suspicion.

    • End in sight

      Yeah, but Steve already said that those 65,000 overseas Apple jobs are “long gone”. When Motorola starts hammering the patriotic nature of the Moto X (made in the US), Apple will no doubt start making plans to bring to the US some of the 65k jobs. I guess they can afford to lose some of that $40 billion annual profit by bowing to public pressure.

  • Eric

    Good post, Tim, but if the report is that Ace Metrix article that has been floating around it has to taken with a huge grain of salt. Samsung is one of Ace Metrix’s newest and largest clients. It’s a shill piece. Apple has always taken pride in their California roots; I can’t recall if their iPod instructions, box or maybe even the iPods themselves used to reference being designed in California.

  • Viswakarma

    Apple leads! Everybody copies and follows!

  • Hmmmmm

    The poll was done by scamscums advertising agency. Shows you the slimy bast*rds that apples gotta contend with. Ace Metrix did the poll, yes?

  • Hmmmmm
  • threeze

    I can see this ad having a lot more weight in America, but I don’t understand why they are showing it on Australian TV at the moment – it just seems very out of place.

  • BarneyBoy

    “…and will make the new Mac Por in Austin, Texas.”
    LOL!
    Po(o)r is what I’ll be when I buy one… ;-)

  • Johnny

    Where are Samsung phones designed?

    Google headquarters for the OS, Korea for the phone?

  • Parre

    Head-on :) Great article!

  • Bob D

    Excellent article. It’s good to see at least some manufacturing come back to the USA.

  • Hedware

    Apple’s “Made in Califormia” advertisements are being run in Australia on TV and in newspapers. In doing some asking around, it appears that the tag line just doesn’t resonate here even amongst Apple fans. It’s a case of ‘so what?’.

    The more cynical view is ‘Sold in Australia, but no taxes paid in Australia’.

  • http://patientambition.com/ Nick

    It’s clever marketing, but not particularly patriotic or noble. The lead designer at Apple is a knighted Englishman, not much of an “American bred” product. Apple, same as Microsoft, Google, etc. are interested in importing as many workers as possible through H1B visas, not because they can’t find enough engineers, but because they don’t want to pay Americans more. In defense of these corporations though, the greed of the U.S. federal government is largely responsible for the offshoring and demolition of our manufacturing base. If we abolished the corporate income tax we’d see several trillion dollars return to the U.S. economy, then maybe we could actually have American made products. I’d be first in line for an iPhone made in the U.S. and I’d pay the premium over slave labor manufacturing in China.