Nick Law’s jump client side to become Apple's vice-president of marcom integration may have come as a shock to the industry. But with an obsession with design, simplicity and the digital revolution, it would be hard to argue the decision from both parties was anything less than inevitable.
Nick Law and his team were sweating in Cannes, and the Mediterranean sun didn’t help.
Publicis Groupe’s chief creative officer – the lauded genius Arthur Sadoun had hired to rekindle Publicis as a modern creative powerhouse just 18 months before – had handed in his notice and was quietly making arrangements to sublet his Brooklyn apartment and head West.
For the first time in his career, Law was going client-side to Apple. And, thanks in part to Cannes’ reliable supply of rosé and gossip, a lot of people knew it.
The leak came the following Monday and was confirmed roughly 12 hours later by Publicis (Apple, true to private form, did not comment). Sadoun’s internal memo was characteristically French and graceful: he thanked Law for bringing the Groupe’s creative community “a vision and an ambition for modern creativity” and wished him all the best.
Tempting Law away from his beloved R/GA – his home of 17 years – wasn’t easy, or cheap, and the chief executive is likely aggrieved or incensed or both by his early departure. But, like he admitted in his farewell letter, Sadoun was losing him to a “once in a lifetime opportunity” with Cannes’ Creative Marketer of the Year, and that is much easier to stomach than a return to R/GA or – God forbid – a jump to another holding company’s top-tier leadership.
Law was hired at a time of flux for Publicis. Sadoun had officially taken the reins from Maurice Levy just six months before and had wasted no time in making headlines when he very publicly pulled out of the Cannes Lions festivities of 2018.
Hiring Law from IPG’s R/GA – an agency renowned for effortlessly fusing creativity with tech – was Sadoun’s way of saying Publicis was ready to serve the modern client. Marcel, Publicis’ in-house artificial intelligence, would act as Law’s mechanical sidekick – his Hal 9000.
But while the chief creative officer and president title was impressive, its lack of executive power prevented Law from implementing any significant change in the Groupe, according to sources close to the company. He did manage to tie up a few critical hires in his last few months – Liz Taylor’s appointment at Leo Burnett and John Maeda’s at Sapient being the most notable – yet Publicis’ creative reboot and the hiring and firing that it requires will likely take a generation to complete.
For a quick-thinking leader used to the cohesiveness of one successful network, the speed at which the ship could turn proved frustrating.
'The perfect marriage'
That’s not to say Law would have left if Apple hadn’t come calling. It’s still unclear which role he is lined up to take when he arrives on the fringes of San Jose in September but a senior creative position at the brand behind ‘1984’, ‘Think Different’ and ‘Shot on iPhone’ is certainly the dream job of many in the industry – particularly if they are designers by trade, like Law.
“It’s the perfect marriage because they share that language of design – he’s going to back to his calling,” said one of Law’s former coworkers.
“He reflects what a modern creative director should look like,” said another. “He’s arguably the most famous leader that came out of the digital revolution of the 90s – and with all the mergers and acquisitions that happened back then there’s many of them around.”
Law is known for his unapologetic questioning of advertising’s favorite slogan – ‘the big idea’ – which he railed against on the Monday morning of Cannes.
“What makes a campaign memorable is not a magical idea that floats above its executions,” he once explained. “Memorable creativity lives at the intersection of humanity and technology; a creation that is conceived to live beautifully and completely in a medium.”
This rather beautifully complements the philosophy of Tor Myhren, Apple’s vice president of marketing communications and the former Grey creative chief who Law will report into.
Myhren’s own speech at Cannes, which ironically acted as a Friday afternoon bookend to Law’s, was dubbed ‘Simple Is Hard’.
"Media is art," he said. "We are picky about where we show up. We may not be efficient, but we are most effective, and twice as expensive is OK if it's twice as good.”
The future of Apple's advertising
With Myhren and Law aligned, the question remains what Apple wants them to do together. Law’s abilities lead many to believe the brand is readying to spin budgets away from the traditional, craft-heavy approach it's known for and towards digital experience.
A senior creative with close ties to the business said the tide had already begun to change in this regard.
“Apple is been pushing for ‘digital’ for a while now – they completely understand where the business is moving towards,” they said, citing its recent digital campaign for Siri with The Rock and its photographer-driven entry into Instagram (despite the brand’s public, ongoing rivalry with Facebook).
They added the launch of Apple TV+, which will sit within the same wheelhouse as Apple Card, Apple Arcade and Apple News+, will require a more digital way of thinking within the marketing team.
“I believe they are building a whole team around that,” said the source. “I’m not sure if that has to do with Nick, but it’s something to consider.”
“With digital advertising now growing at 19% year-on-year, according to the latest eMarketer figures, and digital spending now higher than 'traditional' ad-spend, I'm surprised they haven't focused on it sooner,” said Kevin Chesters, strategy partner at Harbour and former chief strategy officer at Ogilvy UK.
“It would seem to me to be eminently sensible for Apple to put some emphasis on creativity in the digital space rather than thinking it is all about performance and clicks. I would think this strategy should pay off handsomely in terms of improved creative output in the content and experience space. I'm interested to see the difference Nick makes.”
Others have also questioned whether Apple’s relationship with TBWA\Media Arts Lab (MAL), its long-term agency, will change with Law’s arrival and a possible pivot to more digital advertising.
One insider noted Myhren’s Cannes speech heavily emphasized the value of its in-house team, and with Law joining, suggested a distancing from MAL may be on the cards in exchange for a bolstered in-house team.
“I feel like there was a period of time when Apple didn’t need to do any advertising - there were lines out the door for iPhones,” said a former colleague. “Now the category is more mature. Its marketing had become complicated but didn’t have a crisp idea.”
They added: “When [Steve] Jobs was alive, he was the one that simplified anything.
"And one of the things Nick is best at is simplification."