Mar 11

Apple as the punch line

Now that Apple is officially a cultural phenomenon, you can often gauge its performance by the state of Apple-related comedy — on SNL, Jon Stewart and a million moments on YouTube.

When the company is on a roll, we see mostly “reverence-based” humor. That is, humor based on Apple’s proven ability to do amazing things, or even just its ability to advertise in iconic ways. (Witness the many parodies of the Mac vs. PC campaign.)

I know for a fact that Apple enjoys the satire. Though the humor can be rough at times, it’s a compliment that it exists at all. It’s proof that Apple has become a part of our daily lives.

However, Apple also finds itself on the receiving end of another type of comedy. And this type they can’t enjoy nearly as much. I’m talking about the parodies spawned by Apple’s own errors and miscalculations.

Antennagate, for example, was a golden comedic opportunity. But the joke-makers were laughing at Apple, not with them. This only compounded the damage being done by the daily attacks of bloggers and journalists. Apple came through it just fine, of course — but only after weeks of suffering at the hands of the funny people.

I started thinking about this more when I saw this parody done by Conan O’Brien after the iPad 2 launch. At a time when Apple was having a high point, the Conan crew was clearly looking to capitalize with a good Apple-related joke. Looking for an entry point, they bypassed the product itself — and instead focused on Apple’s launch video.

It was an easy target.

I’ve droned on about these videos for many consecutive launches now. They’re formulaic, clichéd and feel uncomfortably like a cult indoctrination film. And obviously they provide excellent fodder for comedy.

This is hardly a crisis. Apple can easily go on churning out new versions of the same video, product after product. But the jokes rub in the fact that they could do so much better.

In the old days, it wasn’t just Jony Ive and friends. They brought in some celebrities to gush about how the technology would change their world. Who knows what other types of videos they could create if they just released the hounds.

I hold Apple to only one standard when it comes to launch videos: they should be every bit as cool as the product they launch.

I’ll cross my fingers for iPhone 5.

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  • Ken–

    Fantastic insight, as always. As general manager of a company that produces, among other things, creative videos for technology product launches, I know how tough it is to get these things right. The last thing Apple wants to do is to let the video get in the way of the product. Conan’s spoof is funny, but in many ways, I think it re-enforces the uniqueness (even snobbiness) of Apple, which is probably a net plus for their marketing efforts. Spoofable? Yes? Freshly creative? No. Still Effective? Yes.

    That said, I’d love to have the chance to develop some new creative for them!

  • AdamC

    Think of the free advertising it is worth much much more than all the laughs/

  • ken segall

    It’s true that “any publicity is good publicity” (for the most part, that is). It’s also true that Apple’s launch videos work for them. That, of course, is the real reason they keep repeating the formula.

    But, as we all know, there are a thousand concepts that could get the same message across. Some are more surprising and memorable than others. I’m so used to Apple firing on all cylinders, and being creative wherever they can be (an iPad cover!), I’m disappointed when I see them stagnate in any area.

    Their launch videos work. I just wish they would delight.