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Apple's Latest Ad Is Pure Poetry

Jan 13 2014, 9:51am CST | by , in News

Apple's Latest Ad Is Pure Poetry
Photo Credit: Forbes
 
 

In 11 days, Apple’s Macintosh computer will turn 30 years old. That machine was introduced with a 60-second TV ad that is among the most iconic commercials of all time. Yesterday, the company debuted a new spot (linked below) for its flagship tablet, the iPad Air. The ad isn’t as out there as the famous “1984” one, but it continues a strategic “ reorienting” Apple began executing last June: The company wants to show off why people love and use its products. They may be metal, glass and silicon, but what you’re buying is experience. It couldn’t be more removed from most everything the competition is doing.

As with Apple’s Christmas ad, the new commercial, titled “Your Verse Anthem,” runs 90 seconds. It uses Robin Williams in voiceover delivering some material older folks might find familiar. Williams quotes his own character from the film Dead Poets Society, which is only 5 years younger than the Macintosh itself. Much of the speech is from Walt Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!” Wait, what? A commercial for a new tablet using dialog from a 25-year-old movie, delivered by a 62-year-old actor, quoting from a 114-year-old poem? Are they crazy?

Apple would likely take that as a compliment. When the company was nearly bankrupt and rudderless in the late 1990s, it brought back founder Steve Jobs. In the first year of his second tenure, Apple’s marketing shifted to the “ Think Different” slogan and a tribute to “The Crazy Ones.” Set against images of pioneers from Einstein to Gandhi, Apple was highlighting that while it might have made computers, they weren’t machines for ordinary folks. The message wasn’t very different from “The computer for the rest of us,” which was used to sell the original Macintosh. But it was repackaged as far from technology as it could be. And the heroes of the campaign were those crazy ones, not Apple’s product. “We make tools for these kinds of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius,” was how the original version read.

The spirit of Jobs’ Apple remains alive and well under the leadership of CEO Tim Cook, who came to the company a year after Apple told the world to start thinking different. While it occasionally loses the spirit of that message, highlighting things like the colorful plastic or metallic gold of its new iPhones, there clearly has been a return to that kind of marketing since at least last June. That month, at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference, it unveiledDesigned by Apple in California.”

At the time, I wrote about how Apple was shrugging off competitors’ approach to the phone market. It was clear that Apple would do things on its own time and that what it’s selling isn’t megabytes. The latest spot echoes those themes a thousand times over. From a film set in India to the depths of the ocean to the heights of the Iguazu Falls in Argentina to the ice of the L.A. Kings hockey team, iPads are everywhere. They are being used by real people for real projects that belie over and again the ridiculous claim that tablets can only be used for “consumption” of content.

It’s hard to imagine this coming from anyone else in technology. Microsoft and Amazon have spent millions comparing their tablets to the iPad with campaigns that literally mock the Apple product’s shortcomings and price. Even when the spots hit the mark — which is rare — they make it impossible to aspire to own a competing product. Instead, they suggest you’re basically a fool for buying Apple.

Samsung has had a tough time resisting the same kind of anti-Apple advertising, insulting Apple’s customers directly. And with also-ran status in the U.S., Nokia decided to insult both Apple and Samsung customers. There’s a time and place for this and it’s typically when you’re losing. Apple eventually followed the “Think Different” era with the famous “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” campaign where Australian actor John Hodgman was the PC personified. Justin Long, as the Mac, was pretty merciless in attacking “ PC” for his shortcomings. Apple’s PC marketshare was in the single digits and, like Nokia today, it was trying to shake things up.

When you feel like you’re winning, though, that kind of marketing starts to seem petty. While Samsung may have developed “The next big thing is here” to poke fun at the perceived slow evolution of the iPhone, it’s embraced it wholeheartedly to show it is now the pacesetter. The mocking is now bravado: We, Samsung, make the coolest stuff. That doesn’t mean the Apple insults are gone, but it seems less likely to be part of the story going forward.

For it’s part, Google has torn a page (or perhaps a chapter) from the Apple playbook by going straight for the heartstrings. The ads have resonated, but what they lack is authenticity. As Daniel Eran Dilger wrote at AppleInsiderGoogle invents people and scenarios that don’t really exist. A kid with fear of public speaking who is asking for the meaning of glossophobia? How or why does he even know the word? And if he does, why is he looking it up? The ad “Fear Less” is wonderful, but the events don’t feel real. Google’s been doing this for a while, having had a new dad send e-mails to his “ Dear Sophie” back in 2011. When Sophie is supposed to read this e-mail timeline of her life is unclear, but you’re not supposed to dissect the ad for its unreality, you’re just supposed to feel. (Apple’s holiday spot referenced above is, incidentally, fiction. But nothing that goes on in it feels fake, other than some small technical details.)

That kind of brand marketing is what Nike, Coca-Cola and precious few others have been able to pull off successfully. It lets you sell an idea rather than a product and reach people on a level far deeper than a call to “ Buy! This! Now!” ever could hope to. For Apple, the trick only works if the technology delivers on the feeling. It’s why the latest ads that have been effective are all designed to press your nostalgia button or your family button or your joy button. Apple has lost the confidence of the investment community, which remains worried it can’t build another hit product. But if this messaging works, it will be making money long after competitors have gone by the wayside.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that in those 30 years since Macintosh, literally thousands of technology products have come and gone and scores of companies have disappeared with them. When Apple was its closest to disappearing, the faithful rallied behind the smallest threads of hope to buy into products that first innovated only on design (think the original iMac) and not technology. It was only later that the iPhone and iPad brought technical prowess that matched their now industry-standard designs. Those designs and the underlying technology provide a combination that gives people confidence in the Apple product their buying. It’s a mistake to believe they’ll easily seek alternatives.

Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Find the rest of my Forbes posts here.

Source: Forbes

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