Where have all the iPhone TV commercials gone?

After several years of nearly continuous iPhone TV advertising, commercials have seemingly vanished from U.S. primetime TV -- I can't find them. Have you seen any lately?

I'm not a big TV watcher, but my fav shows typically are chock full of iPhone -- "There's an app for that" -- commercials. While I DVR every show, I still pay close attention to the advertising. What can I say? I'm a sucker for clever marketing. In watching primetime programming over the last 10 days, I started noticing iPhone commercials for their sudden absence.

This morning, as a check against my memory, I scanned through Tuesday's two-hour "American Idol" premiere and the audition follow-up the following night; last week's "Heroes"; last night's "Human Target" series premiere; and the two-hour season debut of "24." There's not an iPhone commercial -- or for any other Apple product -- in any of the TV shows. Apple has heavily advertised in these shows before. Suddenly, why not now?

One answer isn't rocket science: Apple's January 27 "Come see our latest creation" event, for which invites went out this morning. I didn't get an invite, but one of my peers received one and forwarded it. Could Apple be clearing way for a new advertising campaign, possibly supporting whatever is announced in 9 days?

Stephen Baker, NPD's vice president of industry analysis, isn't so sure. "I don't know if I would read anything into the advertising thing," he told me this afternoon. "January is not a great time to be advertising electronics."

I told Baker that in scanning for ads, I saw plenty for AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, BlackBerry, Motorola Droid and Palm Pre. All the shows had "Windows 7 was my idea" commercials, too.

"They've got something to sell," he rebutted. "January is kind of a funny month. There are a lot of good advertising vehicles -- American Idol, football playoffs and such. But it's kind of a funky sales opportunity." By comparison, it's presumed that if Apple launched a tablet on January 27 it won't ship for several weeks or months. "They aren't going to be spending a lot of money advertising this thing if comes out in May or June," he said.

Baker speculated that Apple could be saving up some ad spending for the Winter Olympics, which opens on February 12. But he did observe that "for phones you kind of advertise all the time because there isn't as much seasonality as other categories, because of the contract thing."

So what does it mean that everyone but Apple is advertising phones or wireless services. I've got a few ideas -- in attention to what Baker offered -- and not all have to do with whatever will be Apple's "latest creation":

  • Apple is in a natural marketing break, preparing to launch a new iPhone advertising campaign ahead of Mobile World Congress, which commences February 15 and where will be competitor announcements.
  • Apple pulled back iPhone advertisements to avoid getting caught in the mud slinging marketing battle between AT&T and Verizon over 3G coverage and 3G reliability.
  • Rumors are true that iPhone OS 4.0 release is imminent. Apple is strategically pulling back advertising to promote the new thing, assuming there are compelling to new features.
  • Most all the rumors are wrong about Apple's "latest creation" -- that it is as much mass-market telephony device as tablet, or something else -- and it's ready to launch soon.
  • Related: Unexpectedly, iPhone 3GS' successor is ready to announce, if not release, so Apple temporarily pulled back marketing to later promote the new smartphone.

Please feel free to throw in your speculation in comments about the reasons for why iPhone advertising has entered a lull. With so many ridiculous rumors out there about Apple's new product, maybe Betanews readers can come up with something sensible, too.

Print advertising continues, by the way. The Jan. 16th-22nd, 2010, The Economist features a full-backpage advertisement for iPhone 3GS and the App Store. Page 28 of yesterday's Sunday The New York Times features the identical advertisement. Companies typically negotiate deals for ads print months in advance, purchasing them in bulk.

I instant messaged Apple PR asking for confirmation and comment about iPhone advertising pullback. I'll update the post when and if it comes.

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