Mar 12

Apple goes wordless once again

A few weeks ago, I put up an article about the lack of headlines in Apple’s most recent outdoor ads. There were some strong opinions on both sides, for and against headlines.

With its latest iCloud commercial (above), Apple has now expanded the wordless approach to TV. This ad gives us a series of shots in which an action taken on one Apple device is instantly reflected on another. (At least we think it’s instant — there is no real reference to the timeframe.)

Thank you, Apple, for giving us the perfect A/B test. The new iCloud ad actually tells the identical story we got in the previous iCloud ad. The only real difference is the absence of a voiceover to explain things. Here’s the previous ad:

So what works best? Words or no words?

In this case, I’m of the mind that words win. Handily. This previous iCloud ad is 100% crystal clear. There isn’t a viewer on earth who wouldn’t get it in a second.

The new iCloud ad starts out clear — a photo on the iPhone appears on other devices. But as the pace picks up, it turns into a lot of things on a lot of screens. Without the narration, there’s a lot of pressure on the final title screen to sum it all up: Automatic. Everywhere. iCloud. It’s debatable how well that line even works.

Even if you are personally of the mind that this isn’t brain surgery, and that anyone of reasonable intelligence would get the point — take a look at both in succession right now. It’s unimaginable that anyone could misunderstand the value of iCloud in the older ad. It’s easy to imagine people missing the message in the new one. If you look away for just a few seconds, the story is lost.

I totally get why Apple does things like this. It’s minimalism, it’s cutting the story down to its essence, it’s trying to make the message as simple as possible. It’s a noble effort.

A picture really is worth a thousand words — but sometimes it helps to hear just a few of them.

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  • Hi Ken!

    I’m a professional TV-edorit based in Germany and from a film-making point of view, I prefer the new ad. 
    In editing you always try and do things without words. And I think the ad does a pretty good job at it.
    The first three shots tell the story. Thing happening on deviceA with user present. Same thing happens on deviceB automatically, the same on deviceC.
    the rest of the ad is basically more of the same. I will grant you that the quicker editing in the second half makes me lose faocus and I can’t take in what gets transferred from what to where – but I don’t have to… I got the picture in the first 10 seconds. The rest is just more examples  of the same principle. 

    If you’ve missed the first 10 seconds, you’re screwed of course. But start the narrated ad in the middle and – honestly – I’d still have trouble following the narrative… (although the goldfish in this version is priceless).

    So ‘d go for the more filmic, newer version.

    By the way – did I tell you, that I really enjoy your blog?
    Best wishes from Germany, Mirko Schieder

  • qka

    With words, the narrator is explaining what is happening as it’s shown. This is great for folks who have little to no idea of what they are being shown.

    Without words, a certain level familiarity with iOS and some OS X operations is necessary to understand what is being done and shown. Without that understanding, the ad could be confusing.

    Is one better than the other? Wrong question. I believe that a better question is “What is the audience of this ad?”

  • ksegall

    That’s a good question, but I think it’s a fairly safe bet that Apple’s TV advertising is aimed at the masses — with the goal of expanding Apple’s audience beyond the customers they already have.

    The screens featuring iCal are a good example of what you’re talking about. If there were more than a second to absorb them, any viewer could probably figure them out. Otherwise, they tend to just be blocks of colors appearing on a screen.

  • ksegall

    I come from the same school of advertising that you do. Always cut to the bare minimum, the fewer words the better. It’s just that one of the great things about Apple ads is that the messages have always been so perfectly clear. I honestly don’t recall ever seeing an ad that has been minimized to the point where the clarity is compromised.

    Whatever, I think it’s an interesting detail to debate. Thanks for your comment!

  • Sam Kennedy

    Wouldn’t this be a case of show, don’t tell?  I prefer the the newer ad but if you do turn your head, you’ll miss it.  Just don’t turn your head! The popcorn can wait ;-)

  • ksegall

    Yeah, I think that’s pretty much my point. Show-don’t-tell is definitely the prime directive. iCloud is a somewhat complicated message, so I respect the effort to reduce it to its essence. The question is, did they make it less easy to follow in the process.

  • CB

    No one has mentioned the music in the wordless ad. For me, that gets my attention immediately.

  • Steven

    I think the ads are meant to built on top of each other. The wordless ad is a continuation of the same theme of the previous one. It’s probably safe to assume the audience have seen the first iCloud ad before seeing the wordless one and in that regard, the second one conveys the fluidity and ease of using iCloud.

  • Mr. T

    I like the new ad. But I have a different question: Has Apple launched into a new phase of a much larger campaign too early?

    The iCloud is a complex, new technology. If I’m advertising a technology and depicting as part of a new lifestyle, at some point in the campaign I have to act like it is ordinary in my presentation — even if it is not common place yet.

    I see this new ad as an important step in acting as if something that was new is now fairly ordinary. Tacitly, it’s telling the viewer to not over think iCloud…that it’s simple…so simple, it doesn’t need explaining now…just watch. That is Apple at its best.

    The flip side would be for Apple to keep explaining the iCloud in their ads which would implicitly send a different message: You, the viewer are still not getting the concept of the iCloud, so let’s try again. 

    Given this context, I wonder if the assumptions of the minimalist ad is too early for most people?

  • ksegall

    Maybe it’s just the words you used, but I don’t agree that Apple ever really advertises as if a product is “ordinary.” The things Apple advertises are designed to induce a degree of lust for something they don’t currently have. However, I do agree that when Apple presents something new — especially something somewhat as rich as iCloud is — they aim to make it seem easily accessible and perfectly effortless to use. That is indeed Apple at its best.

    So I don’t think it’s a question of the minimalist ad being “too early.” I think it aims high, but in the end it actually isn’t as simple as the first ad. It requires a certain degree of pre-knowledge and the viewer’s complete attention.

  • Apple is all about minimalism… They are bringing simplicity to a new level… Sometimes is works… sometimes it doesn’t. I guess not everything can be that simple.