Monday, April 18, 2011

Apple Gets Away With Magic

Steve Jobs delivering a keynote
Source: creative commons

Apple must not have a legal department. No other company would allow its spokesperson to get away with calling a product “magical”. Even if it’s the CEO. But the usual rules don’t apply when it’s Steve Jobs and Apple. Technically, there is nothing magical about the iPad and the Apple legal team has clearly failed to prevent this glaring lawsuit-waiting-to-happen.

Sure, the iPad is an awesome product. Fantastic. And it has taken the market by a storm, proving every doubter wrong. And Steve Jobs was rightfully proud when he claimed in his announcement that the product is “magical”. But it is pure technology, no magic. The legal department at every other company would have pointed out to the marketing team that calling it “magical” is not defensible and thus should be dropped or replaced by something generic and boring like “powerful” or “innovative”.

This is a frequent struggle today. Marketing is trying to do their job and market the product with an aggressive message that will stand out in the market place. They want to use terms such as “the leader”, “best-selling”, or “first”. But then, the legal team gets hold of the press release and checks for possible legal liabilities. And instead of “the leader”, we end up with “a leading provider”. Instead of “best-selling”, we end up with “popular”. And instead of “first”, we end up with “innovative”.

Because the legal team’s job is to reduce any risk of legal exposure from possible false advertising which such statements could represent. Unless you can prove that you actually are “the leader”, you cannot claim that. And unless you can prove that your product really is magical, your CEO should not be using such claim in his announcement. Right? That’s the way marketing teams often operate.

Of course all of this is just silly. Nobody really thinks that “the leader” and “a leader” make any real difference. Neither of these statements will make the product better nor will it justify the value of the solution. Marketing should be staying away from meaningless claims. And the legal industry around the world needs to take a chill-pill. Getting in the way of good business is not the purpose of the law.

Maybe this kind of defensive marketing is government’s making. Unlike Microsoft and now even Google, Apple has not been a target of a major government investigation yet. Apple is loved by customers and partners and rarely makes big, aggressive acquisitions. I can imagine that any experience with a legal challenge from the government changes the corporate DNA towards legal risk mitigation.

In the end, if Steve Jobs wants to call it magical, he should. And if we all believe him, we should buy 15 million iPads in a year. Which is what we did and that by itself is pretty magical.


  1. With "magical," it all comes down to definition. Personally I think flipping a switch on the wall, and a light coming on is magical, not to mention any computer or iPad; and I work with computers every day!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Jonathan. I agree - I always thought that cars, TV sets, and mobile phones are pretty magical. I never accepted that computers (or anything digital) was magical though - perhaps I know too much about how those things work :-)

  3. There is a class of terms that defy legal definition and are insulated from such claims. I don't recall the last time someone was sued because their enterprise software wasn't as spiritually enlightening as promised. When a marketer promises you will achieve a higher level of consciousness by managing your contracts with their software caveat emptor applies.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Lee. I will remember that the next time I'm reviewing a press release draft! :-)

  5. Lubor,

    If you make a claim that can be disputed in “reality” then I think legal should step in. If you say that your product is THE leader then that can be disputed by other companies who by *their* definition are the leaders and you could get into trouble. However, if you make a statement that is obviously just illustrative then legal should take a chill pill. If you believe that magic really exists then Jobs’ comment could be untrue, I’m pretty sure that magic doesn’t exist so it is just hyperbole.

    Redbull doesn’t really give you wings…if some actually drinks did then Redbull would be guilty of false advertising.

    There’s another option…Jobs really is Gandalf and iPads are spirited away from the land of the fairies…

  6. Thanks Andrew. I like your definition. I will need to ponder whether I actually do believe in magic. I didn't know I had to take a side on this issue...