So the big story this week is the dramatic rescue of the trapped Chilean miners, all of them safe and sound. Images of families reunited, and joyous celebrations as these men were brought up from their underground prison into freedom. And then the marketing of these men and their story began. In fact, it began even before they got out of the ground. Oakley donated sunglasses to all the men, to protect their eyes from the light as they surfaced. They were offered a free cruise around the Greek Islands, football teams Real Madrid and Manchester United invited them to watch them play, and one man was offered a trip to Graceland because he was an Elvis fan. And “Apple boss Steve Jobs has sent them all a latest iPod” according to a Reuters report.

Shameless product placement? Smart marketing? Or both? What puzzles me is why he sent them anything at all. Was it only to cash in on the free marketing? I doubt it. Apple doesn’t need to market in this way, in what could be interpreted as opportunistic and somewhat crass. If Steve Ballmer had personally sent each miner a new Windows Phone 7 phone, would we be questioning his motives? You bet we would.

I suspect that Steve Jobs felt moved to do something for the miners, on a personal level. It’s not clear yet, but I’m assuming that they were iPod Touch models. But he could have sent them iPads, or the last remaining stock of MacBook Airs. Why iPods?

Here is some rampant speculation:
1) Their small form factor would more easily fit down the tube: Some reports say that he initially offered them to the miners when they first were trapped, but officials withheld them for fear that headphones would isolate the miners from each other. (Don’t they know that the iPod Touch has its own speaker? And Angry Birds with GameCenter? That’s bringing people together, man.)

2) Steve Jobs didn’t want to appear too generous: giving the miners something more expensive, like a Mac or an iPad would have seemed too magnanimous, because he needs to watch his company’s bottom line.

3) He didn’t want to appear too stingy: An iPod Shuffle is even smaller, and would fit down the tube even better, but really? People are trapped underground and all you gave them was a tiny iPod Shuffle? I hope you preloaded it with some songs, Steve.

4) The iPod Touch sits right in the middle of the iOS product line: Steve Jobs played it safe and chose something not too small, not too big, but just right.

Should Steve have been more generous? Does Apple need this kind of opportunistic publicity? Or are we surprised that Apple gave them anything at all?

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Article via Reuters.

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