At the time of writing, the UK’s still in the EU, everyone still likes Ed Sheeran and Freddo bars still cost 25p. But a lot can change in a month, a year, a decade – and last month's list of launches are both testament and contrary to that notion.
In the UK, we like to poke fun at Eurovision. It’s formulaic. Silly. Formulaically silly. A sea of cheese with the occasional unidentifiable lump floating through, by way of Scandi rock band, country that’s not actually in Europe, or staircase incident.
Apple’s launch events are starting to mirror Eurovision – the tech brand’s latest came with a slew of new stuff that could be considered ABBAs or Jedwards. Some spectators suggested the brand was behind the curve – TV subscription backed by established Hollywood figures, magazine subscription services – while others had something to write home/send weird animojis to one another about, like the titanium, CVV-less Apple Card.
But much like the products, there’s a little bit of ‘seen this all before’ with the launch. Again: formulaic. It all has the same slick, cool feel; it’s very professional, but it’s nothing new. It’s direly lacking enthusiasm. It’s not Steve Jobs walking us through the iPhone like he’s teaching us to turn water into wine – it’s Tim Cook promising Apple Card will protect your details despite being partnered with Goldman Sachs (yes, that Goldman Sachs). When you’ve got the likes of Huawei bringing the Northern Lights to the Tower of London to launch its new device, this all seems a bit flat. And that’s a problem. Because Apple is brilliant.
As it stands, this Apple launch was a bunch of cool products – some innovative, most less so – delivered in that standard keynote format the brand’s fallen into. Apple was, and in certain fields still is, a forward-thinking brand. But this event unveiled no new devices, and as a result, relied on the services and strategy. Apple still could have launched something small and made it feel like the biggest thing in the world, but given the evening’s highlight was a man in a white boiler suit introducing News+, it was clearly a lack of ideas that led to lack of impact.
Despite the countless novelty Homer Simpson bottle openers, pint glasses and coasters dispensed through the nineties and noughties, beer consumption on the whole is down. So, Craft Brew Alliance is setting its sights further afield to non-alcoholic opportunities. The CBA is the seventh largest craft brewing company in the US, and has launched the pH Experiment with the ambitious target of hitting $25m revenue by 2025.
It’s going to put its time, money and expertise behind new ideas – much like Diageo’s Distill Ventures, which incubates drinks startups. And much like Distill, the pH Experiment is assuming that entrepreneurial, test and learn approach to remain innovative. Hopefully the marketing teams will be entrenched in product development and ideation really early on, so they have time to nail this market as well as they have done with craft beer. And, if not… it’s still probably going to taste nice.
TerraCycle is putting plastic to the people - its new initiative with Hi-Cone urges customers to recycle their ring carriers, rather than carelessly chuck them. TerraCycle’s got previous experience here – it partnered with Walker’s for a crisp packet recycling scheme last year, and recently launched Loop: a milkman-style collection service that takes your used plastics and replenishes them.
This new initiative with Hi-Cone is admirable, and as most councils don’t offer recycling for ring carriers, it fulfills a need for sustainable living that’s becoming ever-more popular. But that need may well be trumped by people who, quite rightly, can’t be bothered.
We’ll have to see how successful Loop is first, but maybe getting people to lug ring carriers to their local drop-off (or niftily signing up as a ‘private collector’ and posting from home) won’t work. Then again, the Walker’s initiative seems to have taken off in the UK. And further afield, in Scandinavian territories, you have bottle deposit return schemes – you’ll often see shoppers lugging huge bags of empty bottles to the recycling centre, in exchange for money off groceries. It’ll be intriguing to watch TerraCycle’s full comms roll-out for this one.
Alongside Apple, Instagram dominated headlines last month with its Checkout launch, which allows users to complete an entire purchase journey on the platform, rather than be led astray by fiddly links. Initially launching in partnership with 20 brands – mainly fashion/beauty stuff – solely in the US, rolling out little by little, it obviously caused a huff from those outside the States.
But it’s a really clever move. When you look at something like Google Glass, it tanked because its launch happened so quickly – they went from prototype to public sale in just over a year, leaving little room for the amount of beta testing the product required. It was such a huge technological leap, and the concerns it raised couldn’t be fixed in 13 months – to be fair, a brand as massive as Google would’ve had a tough time beta testing without the usual PR wildfire.
Instagram Checkout’s staggered approach of testing has allowed customers to gradually figure out the good points, the bad bits. There’s not as much expectation as it’s not an instant global release, and its initial launch was limited to 20 brands. Even though Instagram – and indeed the brands it’s partnered with for Checkout – could go all-out, a measured approach sets it up for a grander global rollout that’ll be much sturdier than if they’d done it all in one go.
Given that March was the UK’s original departure date from the EU, and Brexit has piggybacked the news agenda for god knows how long, the launch landscape has still been wild to watch.
And everyone still likes Ed Sheeran.
And Freddo bars still cost 25p.
George Roberts is client services director at launch marketing agency Five by Five