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When a Sledgehammer Becomes a Boomerang

Opinion

When a Sledgehammer Becomes a Boomerang

Khaled AlShehhi, Executive Director – Marketing and Communications for the Public Diplomacy Office at the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, on why Fortnite is taking on Apple and why it matters.

It seems that people at Apple have a memory problem and have forgotten their classics. They don’t go as far back as 1984. In that year, the small computer manufacturer pitted itself as the savior against the totalitarian bully (IBM at the time). In a history-making commercial, a woman slammed a sledgehammer into a giant screen beaming a broadcast by the evil guy.

Watch the commercial, it’s epic.

After 36 years, the sledgehammer Apple threw into that screen is completing a 360° journey and is threatening to lodge itself in the tech giant’s face. It seems the little guy has let go of its founding principles and is now adopting the bullying tactics it so valiantly fought in the past.

Exhibit A: Comparing Apple and Prepear

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Apple has filed an objection to a trademark application by Prepear, a meal-prep company with an app for organizing recipes and meal plans, on the basis that its logo, which consists of a minimalistic fruit design with a right-angled leaf, “readily calls to mind Apple’s famous Apple logo”. Apparently, people could think the two are related. It’s unlikely but make your own mind up. The details are all here: Apple Just Did the 1 Thing No Brand Should Ever Do

Exhibit B: how big a bite for Apple?

Epic, the game publisher behind Fortnite, is locked in a battle with Apple (and Google too) for the cut they want out of sales through their app stores. To cut a long story short, Epic offered direct payments without giving Apple or Google a cut so Fortnite got kicked out of both app stores. Again, it’s a case of tech companies that started nimble, humble and kind turning huge, overbearing and aggressive.

Bad timing

Every side of the argument over direct payment claims to be right but this comes at a time when there is much talk about the enormous power these tech giants yield. Their behaviors are being investigated and in cases met with fines, new taxation regulations and even attempts at breaking them up because they are deemed too big. The question is how big is too big? What should governments do about it? Its unlikely judiciary committees will be the answer though. In the meantime, Epic is suing both Apple and Google but its best shot is this:

The spoof, brilliantly executed, has got the ad industry buzzing. Some say it’s been produced in-house, others believe there’s an agency behind it. Either way, it’s one of the greatest advertising moments in our lives. #FreeFortnite comes from the same ethos that spurred Apple with its 1984 commercial.

App publishers have the choice to accept Apple’s commercial terms or not. If they don’t and popular apps are not available to Apple users, the appeal of the brand might be dented. This could push Apple to review its terms in the long run. It’s all about business and Apple, unlike Google’s Android, has decided to close its ecosystem. This has played a huge part in its success.

Apple claims its rules apply to everyone and indeed they try to get a 30% cut from anyone selling anything through their iPhone app, from a small shop to Facebook. However, Epic argues that thousands of approved apps on the App Store accept direct payments, including those of Amazon, McDonald’s and Uber.

Is the Apple rotten?

This is significant as the pandemic has accelerated the transition of businesses from physical to digital. Against this backdrop, Apple could have acted very differently. The $2 trillion company could have taken the decision to soften its policy on direct payments to avoid hurting businesses large and small in these extraordinarily challenging times.

Consumers don’t care so much about Apple’s or Google’s commercial terms with publishers or direct payments but they do care about choice and convenience. They also care about ethics and integrity. In 1984, Apple had the moral high ground but now it’s much less obvious based on recent events.

Apple, Google and a handful of others, have grown beyond their founders’ wildest dreams. While there is good coming from this, there are also reasons for concern. Politicians worry about their influence, others point out cases of abuse of dominant position. Some are anxious about the loss of privacy. With scale comes scrutiny, from authorities, advertisers and the public.

At the moment, the debate is about breaking the tech giants up to curtail their power and make sure they remain a force for good. Should they be broken up, by whom and how? Should regulations be strengthened instead? Or will the market find balance by itself? How much of a stand should advertisers take in this situation?

Personally, instead of taking punitive action, I think we should all engage with the platforms and work together towards the greater good. I’d love to have your views on this and welcome your comments.

This post was initially published on Khaled AlShehhi’s LinkedIn account.

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