09 Dec Hype or Tripe? Apple Ad Fails to Deliver on Theme
As consumers, we’re usually exposed to an ad campaign’s narrative first—the images, text, and sound that tell a story. Unless the advertiser spells it out, it’s then up to us to figure out the underlying message. If the narrative clearly supports the theme, it’s easy; fairy tales and fables have taught us to find ‘the moral of the story’ since childhood. If the two are misaligned, the message is diluted, misinterpreted or lost completely. To use last week’s GoTo Meeting example, ballerinas don’t make sense in Adventureland.
On Sunday, Apple revealed its new iPad Air 2 campaign on YouTube. The style is classic Apple—clean composition, bright colors, slick production value, and a cool soundtrack from a trendy band. But tech blog Mashable’s critique of the ad made me wonder if Apple may have missed the narrative-theme connection.
The commercial is a 1-minute montage of people using the iPad Air 2 to tackle everyday tasks; motorcycle repair, livestock farming, inventory, carpentry, and pumpkin bombing (yes, pumpkin bombing). As the story builds, the narrative emerges—you can do lots of really cool, handy things with apps on the iPad Air 2. The theme is spelled out at the end in Apple’s signature text-on-white format; “Change is in the air.”
The theme of ‘change’ is squarely on-brand for the ‘think different’ company. In the 30 years since its iconic 1984 Superbowl spot, Apple has globally redefined not only technology, but our entire lifestyle. We’ve learned when Apple says ‘change,’ it means big change. New-way-of-life change. The kind of change George Jetson couldn’t even predict. When I clicked on the ad I was prepared to be blown away.
I wasn’t so much blown away as left feeling a rough draft. I didn’t see ‘change’ in the narrative, at least not the way Apple has taught us to expect. One could argue finding creative new ways to use the iPad is a kind of change, but it’s a relatively weak connection. The theme could more aptly be described as improvement, change’s less-flashy understudy. The users in the ad aren’t doing anything dramatically different, they’re just doing it better. And not strictly because of the iPad Air 2; the narrative could apply to any of Apple’s products, because as you may have heard by now, “there’s an app for that.” Aside from the clever play on ‘in the air’ in the tagline, there’s not even a solid connection between the theme and the product.
It’s a beautifully-produced testament to the glories of mobile technology, but I find it hard to believe the brain trust behind the edgy ‘PC vs. Mac’ series couldn’t deliver a more focused and richly layered message. Without a perfect union of narrative and theme, Apple would be better off choosing one or the other. If the narrative remains, the theme should be amended to ‘improvement’ or ‘productivity.’ Not very dramatic, but if we’re honest, neither is the narrative.
It would make more sense to preserve the theme, which is essentially Apple’s brand promise. Commit to the idea of change; view it through the lens of the audience, the competition, and the brand’s iconic voice. Then weave an epic tale of how the iPad Air 2—and only the iPad Air 2—can rock our world like it’s 1984.