Apple and Google Smartphone Branding

Apple is by no means perfect but if there’s one thing that they know more than any other company, it’s effective branding.

Take the following examples of Google and Apple advertising on Oxford Street in Sydney. It was difficult to take the photos from street level but I think that they still illustrate the point that I wish to make.

The above ad for the Google Pixel 3 is something of an oddity, with the handset being presented as an ice-cream. I’m not quite sure of what they’re trying to achieve here. Perhaps by showing the Pixel 3 as half of an ice-cream, it’s a subtle message that the phone is cool in a stylistic or figurative sense. Regardless of the intention, the choice of light pink against an only partially displayed white phone means that you actually pay more attention to the ice-cream half. Given Google’s history of generally selling Nexus and Pixel phones to tech enthusiasts, I would argue that there is an assumption that mainstream users will recognise and understand the Google branding with only the ‘G’ being displayed. I think that this is a mistake.

I could spend a lot of time talking about Apple’s choice to use the letter ‘X’ as the Roman numeral for 10 in its branding, which may or may not be a branding error, however that’s well and truly set in stone now. Most enthusiasts know to say ‘ten’ like in the days of Mac OS X but many others simply pronounce it as the letter.

Focusing on the ad, we see a much more effective design here. Both the iPhone Xs and Xs Max are displayed here and are aligned cleverly not only to make the colour droplet wallpapers match up, but also to show people that there are two sizes from which to choose. In addition, the heavy use of black throughout the image and far-extending wallpapers clearly send the message to passers-by that these are virtually edge-to-edge displays.

These days, Apple obviously has such enormous brand power that it can express meaning and style in the most minimalist of images. Google really seems to be shipping improved hardware these days (particular camera modules) but the company doesn’t have the same background in hardware design and branding as it does in search. It is an advertising company though, so surely that should mean something here.

What does Google want its phones to be and what message does it want to send? Apple expresses this clearly with its use of premium materials and its annual Shot on iPhone campaigns. Other than purely wanting to provide a stock alternative to the Android juggernaut that is Samsung, it’s evident to me that Google hasn’t really come up with a clear reason to communicate why consumers should buy its hardware.

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