Lining up for the iPhone launch was once an act reserved for the eccentric and most dedicated Apple nuts. Despite how fanboy-ish it was to wait for weeks on end, it used to be silly and fun. Now it's become completely commercialized with publicity stunts riding on the wave of the Apple high.
TechRadar hit the streets on launch night to see which iPhone folks were looking forward to the most. As I interviewed the first patrons in line at Apple's 5th Avenue flagship store in New York it became clear everyone in the front was there solely representing a company.
The marketing ploy was simple - companies sent reps to the front, then media from local news channels, to Yahoo and yours truly (yes even we're guilty of this) covering the iPhone launch gave these startups free publicity.
It's not just a personal observation or theory either. I spoke with Jason Ray at the head of the line and our chat began with him gleefully introducing himself as a consultant for Video Medicine. He spent the following couple of minutes advertising the startup company's telepresence medical consulting service. It seemed a little bit odd that our conversation skipped right past the iPhone but I humored Ray.
"Our whole purpose was to snag the first spot to garner more press opportunities," he said.
Second behind him in line was his wife Moon Ray, who explained they bought their way to the front of the line. The pair plus the CEO of Video Medicine actually showed up a day behind Joseph Cruz and his cousin Brian Ceballo, the original two who were at the head of the line - and incidentally sponsored by RAVPower.
"When the CEO of Video Medicine, saw they [Brian and Joseph] were here already, he pulled out his check book and said 'guys what would it take for you to move down?'" Eventually a business deal was brokered and the CEO handed over $2500 over for the two top spots.
"It's been a marketing campaign that's been very successful," Ray quipped. "I mean we've been in newspapers around the world, so mission accomplished!"
"I think this will be the future of startup advertising," he said. "Just stick some people with some sweaters and hats and have them represent your company, but even better when someone actually represent your company."
The money club
The Rays weren't the only ones representing a company. Just a few spots further down the line Eduardo Campos and Jonah Wong were standing in the fifth and sixth spots to market RAVPower.
Unlike the Rays, Campos and Wong were actually excited about picking up their iPhones. Once again, however, Campos explained they came up with the idea to fly in from Hong Kong and stand in the iPhone line months ago as a way of promoting their company.
Further down the line I ran into Greg Parker who was famously first in line for the original iPhone five days before it even hit shelves. But this time around, even Packer at the event to represent a company.
"The people in front ... everyone is representing a company in some way shape or form," Packer noted, going on to explain what he was looking forward with the iPhone 6 Plus between muted sighs. "I haven't really been looking forward to the big screen, I just like the speed and longer battery life."
The original iPhone launched to fanfare never seen before for a tech product. Now smartphones have become ubiquitous and the latest iPhone has simply become another handset with a big screen. It's inevitable the excitement behind the launch would die down after so many iterations. However, the fun and gleeful spirit behind the iPhone has been transformed into a tiring marketing ploy.