Bob Hoffman

5 warning signs that Apple has lost its magic

August 31, 2011: 6:26 AM ET

"The product pipeline will take years to screw up," says Bob Hoffman. "The ad pipeline can be screwed up in no time."

iPod poster. Source: Apple Inc.

Bob Hoffman is pessimistic about the future of Apple (AAPL) without Steve Jobs at the helm.

The San Francisco-based advertising executive who writes a blog called The Ad Contrarian and a slim volume of aphorisms by the same name doesn't buy the consensus that, as he puts it, "Jobs built a strong culture, hired smart people, and taught a way of thinking that will serve Apple well in the future."

Hoffman believes that genius is, in a word, nontransferable.  He thinks it likely that Apple will continue to shine for a few years while the initiatives that Jobs started are still in the pipeline, but then, as he puts it, "the startling brilliance will slowly fade."

How will we tell if he's right or wrong? Watch the ads. Jobs was not just a technological visionary, says Hoffman. He was also the best ad man of his generation. The first clues that "dull hands have grabbed the wheel" will show in Apple's advertising.

Watch, he says, for these five tell-tale signs: (I quote)

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