Jun 11

Apple’s new high vs. Dell’s new low

If anyone ever questioned the value of creativity in marketing, Apple and Dell are currently staging a public demonstration.

Scratch that — it’s actually more of a public debate.

With its new iPad ad, Apple argues that creativity can make a message more interesting and important. With the first ad in its new brand campaign, Dell takes the position that creativity is an unnecessary frill.

Here’s a quick look at two efforts that live on opposite ends of the creative spectrum.


Since Mac vs. PC ended, I haven’t fawned over too many Apple ads. What kind of fanboy am I? Well, we needn’t dwell on that now. This ad is Apple’s best in recent memory.

In fact, this is one of those ads that makes me jealous. It doesn’t try to be clever, it just is. It makes the point that iPad represents a sea change in computing without feeling self-important. And, miracle of miracles, it does all of this without using the words magical or revolutionary.

Against visuals of iPads doing various things in the hands of different people, Mr. Voiceover sums up what makes iPad so darn interesting:

“Now we can watch a newspaper, listen to a magazine, curl up with a movie, and see a phone call … [and more] … because now there’s this.”

Many tech companies fail to grasp that simple, everyday speech can be the most intelligent way to present a product. Here, Apple describes iPad using the most ordinary words, but combines them in a way that feels totally fresh — and important.

This spot is actually a continuation of two previous iPad ads, both of which were more lofty presentations of Apple’s philosophy. In this spot, Apple does not stand up to proclaim “we believe…” (which can come off as arrogant to some). It simply describes how iPad changes the way you look at the world.

This is the toughest kind of copy to write — unpretentious, intelligent and compelling. Whoever is responsible should take a very big bow. This ad fits well with the best in Apple history.


When Hollywood directors could no longer bear the thought of being associated with a film, they used to cleanse themselves by giving the director’s credit to the imaginary Alan Smithee.

From the first glimpse of Dell’s new $80 million campaign, this could well end up being the first marketing effort ever credited to Mr. Smithee.

The ad you see here was featured in a recent Advertising Age fluff piece, accompanied by quotes from Dell’s chief marketing person. So I can only assume it’s for real — even though it looks and feels like a placeholder awaiting real photography. And a real designer. And a real writer. And a real strategy.

This ad is significant because it marks the beginning of what is supposed to be Dell’s first-ever brand campaign. It’s meant to provide the big, overarching message for individual product ads yet to come.

In other words, it is supposed to be to Dell what Think different was to Apple. I’ll go out on a limb and predict it won’t have quite the same impact.

The only positive thing one can say about this campaign is that it will provide income for stock photo sites specializing in hackneyed people shots.

There are a total of 34 words in this ad. 15 of them — almost half — are the same five words, repeated three times. The power to do more serves as headline, theme line and last line of copy.

Why pound these words into our thick skulls? Perhaps it’s to distinguish Dell’s use of The power to do more from all the others who are using it — including Norlift Fork Lifts, Belkin High-Performance Routers,  Lenovo Docking Solutions, GE Healthcare, Kensington iPad Batteries and who knows how many others. (The 5.6 million Google results for this line were making me groggy.) This is originality, Dell-style.

And it’s not like the remaining 19 words are jewels either. In Dell’s world, boring words fit like a comfortable shoe:

With a range of solutions in cloud computing, interactive learning, healthcare, efficient IT and global services, Dell gives you…

Basically, Dell is saying that what sets them apart is that they churn out a boatload of stuff. So they choose to deliver an undistinguished message built upon an overused theme.

Makes you want to run right out and buy a Dell, doesn’t it?

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  • qka

    This time around, Mr. Voiceover is actor Peter Coyote.

    Apple has used big name actors like Richard Dreyfuss, Jeff Goldblum, and Peter Coyote to do faceless voice over. It certainly must cost more. I think is also show that Apple takes their advertising seriously.

  • Hobbes

    Remember back in the age of middleschool book reports, when you could –immediately–tell whether a kid had actually read the book or had merely scribbled some classmates’ paraphrased interpretation?

    The paraphrasers would always be as ambiguous as possible, never committing to an actual fact, or risk alerting the teacher they knew absolutely nothing about the discussion at hand.

    Dell’s poster feels like that: be as ambiguous as possible, because we really don’t know much about the topic being discussed.

  • Ah, sadly, we do know the Mr. Smithee in this case, Ken.

  • Hans Jensen

    The funny thing with the Dell ad is, although the theme is “The power to do more” it depicts people mostly doing … nothing.

  • And they don’t seem to have any sense of poetics in their typesetting. The paragraph’s final clause, “Dell gives you the power to do more”–which, being the ostensible core message of the ad, you’d think would be worth displaying intact–is broken onto two lines. “Dell” is effectively an orphan. The predicate is floating on its own.

    Thanks for the find, Ken. That’s a remarkably thorough train wreck.

  • William Corbin

    “The power to do more???” Seems Apple already ran a similar campaign using the “Power to be your best” theme back in the early 90s. Try again Dell…

  • Bill

    Ok, this Dell ad actually worked on me. I stopped for a second, and sincerely thought about the range of Dell products, about servers and SANs and tried to ruminate on what employing the range of dell products would be like for my current business needs.

    It produced a VERY distinct image in my head, a memory really, of the 1990s back when I used PCs and how ever peripheral, server, etc, was produced by a different team (even when purchased from the same company) with arbitrary features that were meant to differentiate them from the competition, but that were the flavor-of-the-month, undocumented, requiring specific, brittle, windows drivers, and surely to be forgotten next year when a new product manager takes the product in a different direction.

    This caused a severe emotional reaction. Fear, anxiety, anger, hatred-of-my-life.

    Dell’s add managed to, by reminding me of the generic advertising from that age of generic products, evoke a very painful time in tech history for me.

    For all I know, the PC side of the world has improved, but I won’t forget the torture of dealing with it, and Dell managed to bring it all to the surface.

    I’m sure I’m rambling here, but I’m surprised to be reminded of this, how painful it was and how… repulsive everything to do with the “generic pc” world is to me now.

  • Brilliant!

  • Bmcfadden

    “The power to do more” is empty chest-beating, a meaningless proclamation meant to reassure Dell executives that they are important and relevant in a world that has largely passed them by. It seems Dell is finally giving up on the idea that they can deliver products that consumers actually want — but “at least we do everything else” … Whatever that means.

    “The power to do more” is a tagline you use when you literally cannot think of something better. I suggest Dell examine its soul and find a message that truly matters, but that is making the huge assumption that there is any soul to examine.

  • Nice one Ken. What a cluster. An $80M cluster, no less. Glad I got pushed out of the train before potentially having to show that in my book.

  • bryan Birch

    Two thoughts:

    1. Products as hero. This only works when the product is heroic. So many advertisers think that putting product front and center will work for them like it works for Apple. Even Apple needs to remember to find the hero in the product, or better yet, put it there—in the product. The iPad’s simplicity not only enables me to do more, it makes me want to do more.

    2. Bill Bernbach ( I still like the sound this name makes when it drops) once told me that, good Ad copy can be whispered into the ear of a friend. I think it’s still a great litmus test. Mr Voice over does it in a very friendly way, and I’m not even a big fan of Mr Coyote.