The Apple Ecosystem and the Wacky World of Branding and Sponsorship

Certainly one of the most frequently used terms in the connectivity space has been the word "ecosystem." In particular, the success of Apple during most of the current millennium has been attributed in part to the fact that the various Apple devices--iPod, iPhone and iPad--are each part of a larger "ecosystem" (e.g., ITunes or App Store), which marries the richest available trove of possible contents with the design and functionality of each of these hardware products, to the benefit of both the user and Apple's ever-bulging bottom line.

Perhaps one of the less-noticed aspects of this "ecosystem" phenomenom has been the manner in which trade marks--both in the more traditional sense as well as in the content of co-branding -- have been used. A good example is the recent advertisement in The Economist (I am referring especially to the ad that appeared on page 47 of the January 29th issue), which promotes the availability of the magazine on the App Store (for use on the iPhone and iPad).

The best way to understand this is to consider the picture below, right.

In the ad itself, this visual occupies most of the upper two-thirds of the page. Above it, there appears the following:
[Logo of the Economist] Unlock a Fresh Perspective [App Store logo]
 Below this, we find textual testimony to four aspects of this marriage between The Economist and Apple:
"Full Print edition (...delivered to your iPhone(R)or iPad(R) )....  
Free Access ( access to the editor's weekly selection of must-read articles.)

Full Audio (... fully integrated and read by professional newscasters.)

Full Access (Existing ... subscribers receive full access. If you are not already a subscriber, you can subscribe from within the app ....)" .

So what we to make of this co-branding? Clearly, there is tacit admission by the magazine of the unprecedented centrality of the Apple ecosystem in connection with the manner of online distribution. In the past, neither The Economist nor any other print publication would likely share branding and ad space in their own publication with the distributor of their contents. But when the distributor is also separately selling its wares of distribution to the very same readers, everything changes.

Stated otherwise, in the past, the reader-consumer was largely agnostic about the means of distribution for her magazine or newspaper. In the days where distribution of magazines was carried out largely via the post, one cannot imagine an ad in Time Magazine or the New Statesman that championed the distribution services of the United States Postal Office or the Royal Mail.

However, when the means for distribution is also the purveyor of the hardware that enables such distribution, and the ultimate purpose for establishing a dominant eco-system is to increase sales of such devices, the balance of power changes. Both the contents and the distributor/ onwner of the ecosystem/purveyor of the connectivity hardware receive equal billing before the reader of the ad.

That said, why The Economist would want to promote the Apple ecosystem when the latter is coming under increasing fire for approaching an anti-competitive position and when competing computer tablet manufacturers are coming on board, which will also enable distribution of print contents to end users, is a separate issue, see, e.g., here.  But it turns out that this add is not simply a matter of co-branding. Tucked at the bottom right corner of the ad in small font are the words "Launch sponsors", below which are the marks for Rolex, Shell and HSBC ("The world's local bank)".

I have to confess: I don't understand this. What we have here seems to me an odd situation where well-known brands agree to "sponsor" a commercial activity involving unrelated parties in unrelated fields of activity, and where those some unrelated parties have sought to brand their goods and services in an idiosyncratic form of go-branding in the same ad.

I follow why Rolex sponsors the Verbier music festival summer after summer. But why does Rolex, or Shell or HSBC serve as "launch sponsors" in connection with the iPad, The Economist and the related online ecosystem? If there is a solid reason why Rolex, Shell and HSBC have all agreed to this sponsorship (and I assume that there is), I would be very grateful for reader help in fleshing this out. Until then, I will continue to scratch my head.

More on the Verbier Festival here
The Apple Ecosystem and the Wacky World of Branding and Sponsorship The Apple Ecosystem and the Wacky World of Branding and Sponsorship Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Friday, March 04, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. It doesn't seem difficult to me - despite my indifference leaning towards antipathy.

    My understanding in its least empathic formulation is to compare with buying expensive F1 or Premier League gear in the vain hope that somehow one is "part of it".

    I assume that The Economist thinks its (new) target market are most likely to buy into, metaphorically and actually, a take-what-you-are-given product which gives every impression of seeing its customers as brand obsessed cash machines.

    The magazine used to be about economics, I'm not sure what it's about these days but I feel confident that its founder, a keen fan of Adam Smith would be similarly confused.

  2. Is it really so hard to understand?
    Here is a new medium for distributing information, and a large number of people think that an iPad is 'cool'. Haven't marketing folks always wanted to associate their own product with something 'cool'.

  3. Here's my take:

    Think of the launch as an Event. The Olympics are an Event. The Superbowl is an Event.

    This is a much smaller Event, but someone decided that maybe they could monetize its Event status in a similar way.

    Obviously, from the Economist's standpoint, it's about money. This launch creates highly-visible ad placements that are unique to the medium.

    I would wager that this sponsorship gives lead advertiser placement to three high-end advertisers.

    I would guess it's probably not all that expensive to buy a sponsorship, but still, it is revenue, and print media are hurting for ad revenue all around.

    I do find the idea somewhat distasteful, but I have to admit it's clever. I would not have expected it to be work, but obviously I would have been wrong.

    It remains to be seen if this ever repeats.

  4. Having worked in the wacky world of branding and advertising, I would agree with Gentoo, it is brand alignment and shared audience demographics in much the same way as product placement is used in TV programmes.

    If the Economist brand is about money and economics HSBC is a clear alignment. If its readers are in the main wealthy individuals, with a penchant for quality design and premuim products, such as Apple they share demographics with Rolex.

    Shell is slightly more obscure other than perhaps an association of oil with wealth and shareholders.

    I believe there are strict rules surrounding sponsorship of 'editorial' but not advertising if the feature is clearly differentiated as an advertising promotion.

    Whether 'overt influence' of a consumer audience through co-brand alignment is or will ever be an issue arising remains to be seen. But I suspect not as advertising sales have always applied premium charges for advertisements placed/aligned with editorial features.

  5. Gentoo, Maxine,

    Thanks for your most helpful insights. As a reader of The Economist (but no iPad or other tablet yet), it is nice to know that I am thought of in the same breath with Rolex (nope), HSBC (nope) and Shell (no car).


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