Fast Company

Adobe Launches Hearts and Minds PR Campaign to Bite Apple

adobe heart apple

The public face-off between Adobe and Apple just got serious. How serious? Full page Washington Post ads serious. The ads reuse the same material we've seen before...but they're so slick someone is helping Adobe finesse this stuff.

Adobe's campaign includes a two-pronged attack: The first, which is nastily spiky in a sarcastic way, features a straight and simple "We heart Apple" tag, followed by the hook: "What we don't love is anybody taking away your freedom to choose what you create, how you create it, and what you experience on the web." That's a direct, unadorned stab at Apple's closed iPhone development platform.

The other prong of Adobe's attack constitutes an open letter to the world's netizens from Adobe's cofounders and chairmen Chuck Geschke and John Warnock. This explicitly addresses how Adobe embraces open Web thinking, and suggests that Apple's closed platform may be undermining the future of future mobile computing paradigms. Here are some choice phrases culled from the letter:

We believe open markets are in the best interest of developers, content owners, and consumers
If the web fragments into closed systems, if companies put content and applications behind walls, some indeed may thrive — but their success will come at the expense of the very creativity and innovation that has made the Internet a revolutionary force
No company — no matter how big or how creative — should dictate what you can create, how you create it, or what you can experience on the web
We publish the specifications for Flash — meaning anyone can make their own Flash player. Yet, Adobe Flash technology remains the market leader because of the constant creativity and technical innovation of our employees.
We believe that Apple, by taking the opposite approach, has taken a step that could undermine this next chapter of the web

Ouch. What's Adobe's plan? Is this two-pronged "bulls-horns" approach taking lessons from Shaka Zulu, with the company hoping it'll sweep the rest of the Net along with it as the bull's head, demolishing Apple's anti-Flash arguments in one fell swoop?

This is fascinating, for one reason: Flash is not, absolutely not, an open standard. It's proprietary. Adobe gets to decide what gets included in its code, what tools it shares with the Web's creative folk to craft their content, when these get upgraded and how well they're optimized (which is very poorly for Macs, for example).

To access Flash content from a browser you have to download a Flash plug-in--it's not built in to IE, Chrome, Safari or any browser--and this code comes from Adobe. It also comes from Adobe every time you get one of those irritating "you need to upgrade your Flash player" messages. And it's Adobe you should blame when Flash crashes, sometimes taking your entire browser with it.

And on the flip side, Apple isn't competing in Adobe's Flash space (yet)--it's merely aggressively promoting an open platform alternative, HTML5. Apple's iPhone development platform may be closed, but Apple explains it's for good reasons--for example, you're unlikely to download an app from the App Store that has a virus in it or which totals your system. And before Apple's iPhone, there was no equivalent of the App store, nor a smartphone as intuitive as the iPhone or a tablet as remarkably easy to use as the iPad. Apple has surely expanded the available format for computing, not closed it down. And nor is Apple's closed platform stamping on open-source software initiatives, and Steve Jobs is actively promoting openness.

So what is Adobe's campaign all about? It's certainly sleek--and possibly even one-ups the plain and boring efforts Apple's made in public on the matter. It tells us nothing new, but its aimed at non-techy folk to try to paint Apple as the bad guys and Adobe as the good guys, presumably with the goal of keeping Joe Public clicking on "upgrade your Flash player." In this sense, the campaign is so carefully orchestrated that it's clear Adobe's had help from some experts in PR. Perhaps we may even suspect Adobe's long-term relationship with Goodby, Silverstein and Partners--the team behind the recent uber-smooth ad campaign to promote Creative Suite 5. These guys would certainly be capable of spinning Adobe's re-used arguments in this manner.

What's clear is that this new campaign must be to win hearts and minds among non-Netterati, the man in the street as it were, who knows little to nothing about Net standards, but responds well to troll-like badmouthing and worry-inducing accusations about curtailment of future freedoms (which is rhetoric that's clearly aimed at a U.S. market, more than any other). Is Adobe taking part in a form of gentle mental terrorism?

Cue a slick, spiky, successful and clever response campaign from marketers par excellence Apple in 3...2...1...

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2 Comments

  • Henry

    This has less to do with Flash and more to do with CS5 compiling a binary-compatible app for iDevices. Apple waited until a week before the CS5 release to change their developer license to include a draconian mandate that all apps be written in Objective-C. Apple doesn't want developers to be able to write once, run everywhere. They want to control their developers.

    Add to this the political censorship nonsense. There comes a time when their actions outweigh their product quality. I have stopped development on my iPhone apps and have started learning Android.