The Apple of Bill’s eye

A self-conscious, but light-hearted short film shows Microsoft failing to replicate the packaging success of Apple Computer’s iPod, says Adrian Shaughnessy

How do we tell our clients that their ideas are wrong? We can be subtle and clever about it, or we can be blunt and confrontational. Or we can take a cue from a wonderful film that’s recently turned up on the Internet, and demonstrate to them – graphically – where they are going wrong.

Microsoft Designs the iPod Package is an effective and witty demonstration of the spuriousness and ineptitude of much contemporary marketing and branding. A cleverly-made spoof, it shows what might happen if Microsoft packaged their own version of the iPod.

The clip first appeared on the cult website You Tube. It was removed from there and can now be found (at the time of writing) on Google Video. For anyone engaged in packaging, branding or visual communication, it’s an entertaining and enlightening way to spend just under three minutes.

If you’ve bought an iPod, you will know that the Apple Computer design experience extends to the packaging and that your player comes in a neat cube, its surfaces so stylishly uncluttered that you are loath to throw it away.

The movie begins with the existing iPod packaging rotating in space. Richard Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra plays portentously in the background. Suddenly, a halo appears above the box, the cue for the Microsoft makeover to begin.

Handwritten instructions, like those scribbled over print-outs of a presentation, urge the pack’s fictitious designers to transform the packaging using the signature Microsoft style.

The music changes to the sort of vapid, up-beat ditty beloved of US advertisers. A blue panel containing the words Microsoft I-pod PRO 2005 Human Ear Professional Edition with Subscription, all but obliterates the familiar shot of the iPod. A handwritten instruction exclaims, ‘We still need to communicate the richness of the product’, and with that comes a deluge of corner flashes, roundels, colour panels, logos and instructions.

Yet another handwritten command appears – ‘Don’t forget the third-party endorsements’ – and a string of logos attach themselves to the packaging, subjecting the iPod box to a graphic assault of unimaginable hideousness – and the gorgeous simplicity of the original is soon destroyed.

At a time when Apple appears to be universally regarded as a paradigm of successful branding, it is interesting to note that it has achieved this status by avoiding the formulaic branding strategies that prevail elsewhere.

As Microsoft Designs the iPod Package nimbly reminds us, Apple’s iPod packaging eschews all the tacky tropes and over-egged practices so frequently adopted by consumer-focused brands.

But who made this funny little movie? You might imagine some smart cookies at the Apple design studio knocked it together. Not so. According to the independent website www.iPodObserver.com, it was made by Microsoft.

A Microsoft spokesman, Tom Pilla, informed iPodObserver, via e-mail, that, ‘It was an internal-only video clip, commissioned by our packaging [team] to humorously highlight the challenges we have faced in terms of packaging and to educate marketers here about the pitfalls of packaging and branding.’ They may not be very good at packaging at Microsoft, but they’ve got a sense of humour. You have to give them that.

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