Apr 11

Finally! A different kind of iPad ad

Houston, we have liftoff. After more than three years of generally sticking to a formula for iPhone, iPod and iPad ads, Apple has given us a little surprise.

This new iPad 2 ad, which debuted on Saturday, is from a different world. Gone is the series of apps displayed on a device held by an inhumanly perfect hand.

Shot against black, this ad feels more elegant, more important. That’s because it’s not just a commercial for iPad 2 — it’s a brand ad wrapped in product ad.

Cleverly, it still manages to communicate a wide range of apps — but it does so only in service of the brand message. This ad is about how Apple’s unique philosophy leads to products that are “even more delightful” and yes, “magical.” (I’ll save the issue of Apple’s adjective addiction for another time.)

Personally, I’d been disappointed that Apple had allowed itself to wander into formula territory in the first place. I was genuinely surprised when the launch of iPad — a fresh, world-changing technology — was advertised in the style of ads that had been running for two years before.

To be fair, many marketing experts would totally support what Apple has done. If you’re revolutionizing the world, you’re the center of attention and you’re selling products faster than you can make them, why on earth would you ever change the formula?

My best answer: “Because it’s a formula.”

Apple doesn’t do formulas. It’s in Apple’s blood to relentlessly make things better, even when they’re pretty amazing already. This is what they do with their products (like killing iPod mini at the height of its popularity), and this is historically what they’ve done with their advertising.

So, in my opinion, this extended period of sameness on behalf of the world’s most revolutionary products was an aberration. Now, at long last, Apple is taking us someplace we haven’t been before.

The big question is: how do we like the new ad?

Judging by the comments I’ve seen on blogs so far, it’s safe to say this ad is going to be a big hit with the Apple crowd. That alone would make it a smart investment for Apple. It gives their customers a flag to rally behind, and a good argument to carry forth into the world.

I buy the message of this commercial 100%. Apple products are absolutely different from competitors’ products — and they are different precisely for the reasons described in the ad. That this can be conveyed in just 30 seconds is a good example of Apple’s ability to distill a message into its simplest, most understandable form.

Not to spoil the euphoria, but I feel duty-bound to point out that this ad is not without a downside. While the message may resonate with Apple customers, it is by no means a slam-dunk with the rest of the world.

This is the type of message that is ordinarily delivered by Steve Jobs personally, at such events as the iPad launch. It’s perfectly natural for Steve to get on stage and say things like, “We believe…”

It’s a very different thing when a TV commercial interrupts what we really want to be watching and starts telling us, “We believe…” Some will take that as pretentious and condescending.

While the believers cheer the message that “magic” involves more than tech specs, those aware of competitors touting superior specs might roll their eyes and take it as Apple being defensive. “Oh, so that’s why you put crappy cameras in iPad 2. That’s part of the magic?”

But no commercial can please everyone, and Apple isn’t trying to convince the die-hard haters. They’re simply trying to get their message out to the vast number of potential iPad buyers, many of whom do not know Apple particularly well.

Personally, I love the fact that Apple is taking a risk by doing something unusual. By doing so, they reinforce the fact that they’re not like the other guys. They honestly believe this message, and they’re willing to spend major money to broadcast it. (And I can guarantee that they did not test this message with 20 focus groups first.)

Once the euphoria fades, though, it does make you wonder: what next?

If this is the “stake in the ground” commercial, where does the advertising go from here? Or is this just a breather, designed to take advantage of iPad’s “moment,” and then we go right back to what we had before?

Surely iPad deserves something better than a series of app shots on the screen. If iPod had the energetic silhouette campaign, and Macs had the endlessly entertaining Mac vs. PC campaign, what does iPad get? Or does Apple scrap tradition and create a “mobility” campaign that encompasses all of its i-products?

Apple and its agency TBWA\Chiat\Day have amazing creative resources, literally around the world. And most creative people would kill for the opportunity to work on such a project.

So I’m going to cross my fingers that the best is yet to come. I hope we can soon return to the days when morning conversations often started with, “Hey, did you see that Apple commercial last night?”

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  • chanos Ken but

    Good points Ken but Apple’s ads showcase what you can do with their products. The product is sold not by what it is but what it can do and how easy it is.
    The iPad is the true computer for the rest of us, first expressed in 1984, but not realised until now. iPad is for everyone who gets computers yes, but it is even more the computer for everyone who never understood computers. There are a few billion people in that group. Their ages range from 1 year old to over 101 years old – that’s been proven.
    iPad ads capture the imaginations of such people. Of all the people who just never ‘got’ computers.
    You sell the sizzle, not the sausage.
    You sell the destination, not the airline and never the airplane.

  • Matthew

    I wanted to point out that there was an earlier iPad commercial that wasn’t part of the formula. It was similar to the old Newton ad. It was “What is iPad” and it felt like an homage to the old “What is Newton” commercial.

  • ken segall

    I sometimes forget to clarify this point. There are two parts to every ad — the strategy and the execution. I’m not saying that the strategy of stressing the apps is wrong. I’m saying that there are infinite creative ways to execute the same strategy. Throughout Apple’s history, their ads have been as inventive as the products they sell. That’s part of Apple’s appeal. I think iPad deserves a campaign that is entertaining and generates buzz — as opposed to ads that say all the right things but just aren’t very exciting.

  • ken segall

    They’ve actually strayed a couple of times. Like with the commercials promoting FaceTime.

    Honestly, I like the spot you reference, “What is iPad,” better than the others. At least it had real locations, real people and real hands. It wasn’t easy to produce. But conceptually, it didn’t stray all that far from the formula.

  • PhillyG

    The question is, what’s the iPad2 got that the iPad1 doesn’t? Ken Segall claims that the 2 cameras are nothing to brag about. That leaves Apple with “thinner, faster, lighter”. It took Apple all of 1 second to say that!

    Anticipating that “thinner, faster, lighter” might not be enough, Apple didn’t bother mentioning HOW MUCH “thinner, faster, lighter”. Instead, Apple spends 29 seconds describing how “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”, and subtly explaining what makes Apple the premier systems integrator.

    Kudos to Apple for avoiding the word “ecosystem”!

  • Joost

    This commercial reminds me of this TED-talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html

    Thought it was pretty interesting..

  • Peter

    Actually, I’ll take the downbeat approach. Apple does this ad because they have nothing to say that their competitors can’t also say.

    Apps? Android has them. Apple can say 300,000, Android can say 100,000, most customers will say, “Wow! Those are big numbers!”

    Phone Hardware? From a numbers argument, most phone manufacturers have Apple beat. I see plenty of dual-core Android phones out there. Apple’s is “possibly delayed” until September.

    Tablet hardware? Again, Apple can claim “thinner and lighter”, but we’re talking ounces at this point. From a hardware standpoint, Xoom delivers more for the same price.

    Software? Here, Apple wins. But “best software” can be very subjective. Heck, what’s the best Twitter software for the iPhone? You’ll have a half-dozen answers. Short of doing “I’m an iPhone/I’m an Android phone” types of ads (a la T-Mobile), there’s not much you can do.

    So, basically, Apple’s got nothing that they can really use to differentiate themselves except their image. So that’s what they use.

  • stephen Sonnenfeld

    It’s hardly the case that Apple has nothing to differentiate themselves other than their image, but even if that was true, so what? Dell, Samsung and countless others would kill to have the image of their brand be seen as differentiated. Bottom line is, no one’s camping out in front of a Verizon Wireless store to get the new Dell Streak.

    This is best ad that Apple has run in years. Why? Because to Joost’s point about the Simon Sinek video, it speaks to the “why.”

    Every so often you have to call attention to the wallpaper, as one of my former clients once put it, and remind people why you do what you do. Why you’re special. This ad does so in a very simple, elegant and persuasive manner.

  • Scott

    When I saw it the first time, it reminded me a little bit of the Think Different campaign. I saw it as Apple restating its corporate beliefs, this time through the iPad. They could have easily run the same spot but substitute the iPad for a MacBook Air or an iMac without even changing the words and you would still get the same message.

  • ken segall

    I think you’re exactly right. Just about any Apple product could have been substituted for iPad, and it would have made sense. Seems like this was a bit of a “perfect storm” opportunity for Apple — using the current frenzy over iPad 2 to make a much bigger point.