The day the mystique died.

Friday, July 27th was not a good day for the advertising business. It was not a good day for Apple either. It was the day the new Apple TV campaign premiered on the Olympics. And the spots were awful.

Please take note: I used the words Apple and awful in the same breath. Perhaps other people have used those words in the same breath before. You know those lost souls who have never used Apple products and think they’re awful. But for me, a life-long Apple enthusiast (well, since 1984, a lifetime in computer years) and an advertising guy, it was a real downer.

The commercials weren’t horrible by, say, Dell standards. Which means no standards at all. But as a fellow advertising vet mentioned to me, “Current Walmart spots are better.” Wal-freakin’-mart!  Roll over Steve Jobs.

Apple is a company that I, and oh, I don’t know, maybe a few million other real close friends have had almost nothing but respect for for years and years. Apple computers: Porsches. Apple iPods, iPhones, iPads: Rolex watches, filet mignons, dusty bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild.

Yes, I and my few million pals, all part of the Apple brotherhood, have had this unwavering respect for the brand, its products, its service and its marketing, seemingly forever. We aren’t used to being disappointed. Apple rarely disappoints. But the unwavering respect just started wavering.

Is this the beginning of the end of insane awesomeness? Should I sell my stock? Am I over reacting? I hope so. But I don’t know.

Admit it Apple freaks, besides being kinda sad when Steve Jobs died you were a little nervous too. Will Apple be able to retain its creative edge? Will the products start becoming just products and not religious experiences?

I’ll admit it crossed my mind. I know Wall Street was wondering about this. Well, I fear that the new ad campaign is perhaps the first sign. I know it’s not something Lee Clow and TBWA would have recommended. It has to be a bad inside decision.  What other bad decisions loom?

There was a fair amount of buzz during the first few airings of the spots among my nearly 700 facebook friends, and it was all negative. All negative. Yeah, they’re mostly advertising creative snobs. What do they know? More about advertising than any lame focus group, that’s for sure. Plus, they’re all Apple users. Likely long-term Apple users. The core. The base. The people who kept Apple in business during the dark days of Scully and Amelio.

These ads were not aimed at us, perhaps. Fine. They don’t need to attract us to the franchise. We’re lifers. Or so I thought.

My initial reaction is that these commercials must have tested well against non-Apple users. (Sure, what do they know?) And, yeah, when you’re the largest company in the world, the only way you can grow is to attract new users. And this strategy alone shouldn’t turn off loyal users. We may hate the ads, but we’ll still love the products, right?

But a little voice in my head keeps whispering that this may be the beginning of the end of the renegade company as we know and love it. I mean, by definition, it’s hard to be a renegade when you have dominant shares of the personal computer, smart phone, mp3 player and tablet markets.

Maybe the question isn’t how did this pedestrianizing of Apple happen? Maybe it’s how has it taken this long to happen?

Doesn’t matter to me. It’s still a sad day. It still opens the door to mediocrity, something I, perhaps naively, thought I’d never see in Apple.

I hope I’m wrong. Apple has megatons of brand equity to draw upon to make sure they don’t let this slip up lead to bigger things.

I mean, it’s only advertising, right? There are plenty of great products that do crappy advertising. …. Actually, I can’t think of too many.

And, here’s the really scary part for ad people. Apple has been one of the brands we’ve all used for years, decades, to show our clients how great advertising can help build great brands. Nike. Target. Apple.

Is a cornerstone of modern advertising starting to crumble?

I didn’t expect Apple to be the first to falter. Yet, falter, they have. Big time.

I hope it’s not the beginning of the end. I hope I’m overreacting.

© 2012 Tom Monahan

Tom Monahan is the Head Creative Thinking Coach at Before & After, a company that works with major marketers and ad agencies worldwide, including Target, Virgin, Novartis and Unilever, among others. Previously, Tom was founder and Executive Creative Director at ad agency Leonard/Monahan, an incubator for creative talent in the 1980s and ’90s. Monahan has published The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy under the Adweek imprint, was advertising columnist for Communication Arts for over a decade and was the youngest creative director written up in The Wall Street Journal’s long-running “Creative Leaders” series.