Dec 13

Apple thinks different for Christmas

There’s a comforting predictability to the holidays. Decorations go up and the shopping countdown begins.

There’s a predictability to the holiday ads as well — most of which scream big sales and hot products.

What we don’t expect to see is an advertiser taking a risk. Which is why I find Apple’s 2013 holiday spot so interesting.

Ever see a company spend nearly half of its holiday commercial depicting the downside of its own product?

Apple has done just that — painting the picture of a kid seemingly more interested in the virtual world of his iPhone than the family around him.

The twist, of course, is that this kid is different. Far from withdrawn, he’s actually inspired. He’s using technology to give the family a gift from the heart — one that will be treasured for years to come.

It’s a clever concept. The spot relies on our own stereotypes to lead us to an incorrect assumption, setting the stage for the second half of the spot to pull our heartstrings so effectively. Despite its cleverness, the spot feels very real.

The casting is excellent. Absent dialogue, the kid’s character is revealed only through facial expressions and body language. He comes across every bit like the kids we all know.

Creating reality like this requires time, money and talent — all of which are amply on display.

Of course, we’re talking about Apple here — so there’s no shortage of critics eager to tell us why the commercial fails. Take your pick: it says little about the product, any smartphone can make a movie, or the spot is a depressing statement about human values.

Good grief.

Most of these people mistake their personal opinion, instinct, values and/or taste for actual marketing talent. There are tens of millions of people who will stop in their tracks at this commercial and wipe a tear from their eye. As a result, they will feel slightly more attached to Apple, which is the marketing purpose of this spot.

Far from depressing, this ad is wonderfully optimistic. In the most human terms, it says that the right technology can bring people closer together. It’s a perfect thought for the holidays.

If you want to get a read on the ad’s effectiveness, just Google around a bit. The reactions have been almost universally glowing. In the best of times, that would be impressive enough. But these positive reviews come at the end of a year in which the buzz has not been kind to Apple.

This ad is a holiday card from Cupertino. It lines up perfectly with the values Apple has communicated for years. It’s not about technology — it’s about quality of life.

The takeaway is much the same as one gets from the “Designed by Apple in California” ad, but I like it a hundred times more. In that previous effort, Apple simply told us why it is different. This new spot tells an interesting story and lets us draw that conclusion for ourselves. It’s a more artful, more memorable way to make the point.

Once again, Apple demonstrates it’s a different kind of technology company. Most talk about what goes into their phones — Apple shows what we can get out of them.

That’s a welcome message any time of the year.

If you haven’t had enough of this topic yet, listen to my conversation with Shawn King of Your Mac Life.

Tags: , , ,

  • darlaj

    “Misunderstood” is In the tradition of these classic technology ads that created an emotional connection with the process of using the product rather than its inventiveness.

    “Reach Out and Touch Someone” AT&T

    “Turn Around” Kodak

  • chris

    Looks like Apple is getting its marketing mojo back. “Misunderstood” and the Pencil (iPad air) spot are two of their best in long time.

  • You have a coding problem with your video. I pasted the article URL into my Facebook and Google+ feeds and it showed irrelevant images instead of the video. Not good SEO.

  • You’re right. When I paste the URL into a post in FB and hit return, it comes up with the Twitter logo.

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  • 程肯

    It’s not necessarily a new story, but an old one with a modern twist. In the past, most families would have one person documenting the holiday. The cameraperson. Of course, they were never in the shots, as they were shooting the images or video. Now, that person holds a camera phone and can take selfies! As the designated cameraperson in my family I can totally relate!

  • ksegall

    Thanks for the tip. Fixed.

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  • hannahjs

    Once again, Ken, you have managed to explain me to myself.

  • bobmonsour

    As cynical as I sometimes feel I’ve become (at 58), and having been in the tech world for quite a long time, I found this ad to be one of the absolute best ads that Apple has ever done. Your description of it’s purpose and style do it justice. I am honored to be among the tens of millions who did indeed “wipe a tear from their eye.” Thanks.

  • ez

    The pencil one is amazing, but in much different ways.

  • Knute

    We live in an undefined era with technology we’ve never seen before. How do we integrate it into (or enhance) our lives? This spot is about the people who wrestle with this on both sides. The solution is to accept, adapt and appreciate because in the end, no matter what technology delivers it’s our humanity that needs to shine through.

  • pjs_boston

    The ad says more than just how the right tech can bring people together.

    This is a stealth “Think Different” ad. It shows the audience how certain creative people can be misunderstood by simply allowing us to draw our own (incorrect) conclusions. In the reveal, the ad shows us how the right tech can help those who are different to connect with the rest of us. However, it is also a gentle reminder that the rest of us should not be so quick to judge those who don’t quite fit in. Its an ad for a product and a case for tolerance and compassion. It is a deep value statement and one the Steve Jobs would have loved.

  • Awesome article, thanks for sharing :-)

  • Serserkov

    Это очень плохая реклама. Она обещает индульгенцию тем, кто слишком увлечен своим телефоном. Она обещает, что гаджет принесет в семью единение. Это все ложь. Но чертовски убедительная ложь!

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  • Player_16

    This is very bad advertisement. It promises the indulgence of themes, who is too fascinated by his telephone. It promises, which gadget it will bring into the family unity. This is still lie. But devilishly convincing lie!

  • ajollynerd

    This ad joins Pixar’s movies in the list of things that bring tears to my eyes. Damn you, Apple, you magnificent bastards.

  • davidovich

    вы абсолютьно не понимали что мальчик имеет болезнь не знает как сообщаться со семьёй

  • Jon Phillips

    My 13 year old and his friend LOVE this ad. Branding with future consumers in effect.

  • Serserkov

    Действительно, я об этом не подумал. А откуда это можно понять? Где об этом сказано?

  • We all criticize the ad for being an ad. Like we hate on ad people (when not watching Mad Men). It’s disengenuous – because it’s an ad.

    Nobody is “hating” on Apple for pointing that out. They are rather hating on ads. Because ads usually suck. This ad sucks because I am cynical enough to see right through it. Because I was alive the last six years on Christmas to witness what happens at the table and under the tree. Hint: Twitter/Facebook/Instagram. Not iMovie.

    What I can not get into my head is people who usually do everything to PREVENT seeing ads (via Netflix, Amazon Streaming, DVD rentals, iTunes you name it) fawning over this. It’s as if this was some kind of inspirational motto-video rallying the fans before the great match or something.

    It’s manipulative and doesn’t represent reality. That’s my problem with the ad. Sure, other ads suck even more, but that isn’t really the point.

    I loved the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ads because they were tongue in cheek, but the Siri ads for instance or now this one distort reality to present the products in a light and with features they do not have. Pretending kids use their cameras to get closer to their family is simply a complete load of bull, just as it’s as it’s a complete load of BS that a girl on a ski lift would find talking into a watch cool.

    Apple can do better than this. They DID do better than this in the past. Tongue in cheek and funny. Again: this ad is manipulative and I apploud their makers for getting what they are supposed to do right, but PLEASE don’t pretend that this is a “good” ad in any other sense than “This is good because it will sell product”. Hell yeah it will. But it feels just as shitty as every commercial where you see fineprint in tiny tiny letters. This ad should have “does not represent real life” in tiny print on screen just like the Samsung Super Bowl ad with Paul Rudd / LeBron and Seth Rogen had tiny print telling the viewer the stuff happening on the devices was not in real time.

  • Exactly. The pencil ad is a thousand times better than this. Because it’s not misrepresenting reality.

  • makeinu

    Apple: endearing ad about family for the holidays. “Bring joy to the holidays, show your family something special.”

    Samsung: vaguely date-rapey ad about a stalker on the ski slopes for the holidays. “Yeah! Score with the hot chick and make the loser cry! It only looks like stalking because it is!”

    Nokia: W. T. F. creepy bizarre avant guard *hand wave* whatever that was for the holidays. “No. It will never make sense. Stop trying, and leave the lights on at night.”

  • colormedisappointed

    This would have been a perfect ad if the teenager at the end would have announced that he was gay. Would have dovetailed in nicely with Apple’s support for protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • trex67

    This ad is SO good. I usually cynically reject syrupy, sentimental commercials, but this one’s different, more authentic. Yes, I know it’s a ploy, but it is so well done that I found myself sucked in and happy about it, maybe even a little less cynical as a result.

  • Bortels

    “Pretending kids use their cameras to get closer to their family is simply a complete load of bull” So – that just went right over your head then, eh? Apple’s subtle, it happens. You understand that “Think Different” is Apple suggesting you can use technology to go against that norm, right? The whole point is that kids don’t… but you *can*.

    I do have to say I’m amused by a complaint that it’s manipulative – that is, of course, the *point* of an ad. An ad that doesn’t change the viewer is what we call a “failure”.

  • *sigh*

    You are really trying hard not to understand what I wrote.

    My point is that the people who have the money (e.g. parents) are manipulated into thinking that if they just buy their kids the product, they will be creative.

    Usually Apple represented their products as tools for people to be creative. In ways they actually _were_ creative. But pretending like a whole generation of teenagers who use their phones to distance themselves from their parents, will NOT use the phone to do exactly that the second they get it out of the box, is manipulative bull.

    0.000001% of kids will use their phones like this. Maybe the spot will inspire a couple of them to try it out. Maybe 10 or 20 of them will end up in film school because of this ad.

    But that is like showing us a stupid girl on a skilift who gets with a guy because he has a Galaxy gear. Sure, there ARE dumb (derogatory word for females, self-redacted) out there who do exactly that, but what are the chances?

    This ad is exactly like those funny, manipulative bullsh*t AXE ads. I mean it’s fun and nice to see guys getting girls because they douse themselves in AXE body spray, but in the end one can still say “I laughed” just like I can say “I felt touched” (when I saw the Apple ad) and then call bull. Because it’s far fetched, manipulative, advertising bull.

    And Apple usually was better than that.

  • Koen van Hees

    I hate you Apple! And ET! And Bambi! Damn you Apple, damn YOU!!!!!!!

    No, I didn’t cry, that’s just an allergic reaction. I hate you AND I’m allergic to you.



    damn you Apple…

  • Makako

    I may be reflecting a bit here, but I still have to see someone bring up what this ad is actually about. I THINK I know exactly what the ad is about, because I feel it hit home big time for me.

    I think the child in this video, he has Asperger’s syndrome, as do I. People with Asperger’s find it very hard to communicate feelings and empathize with families, at least in the traditional way. We tend to have our heads in a book, or a computer, or whatever it is our brain got obsessed with and it can be depression inducing to be forced away from such things. This does not mean we are not aware of our family, it’s just… very hard to verbalize and say it out loud, or even demonstrate it.

    The child in this video is misunderstood by his family. They think he just care about his digital toy and ignores his family. The truth is he used his obsession with this device to communicate how much he actually is aware of them, how much he loves them, and that he may actually be much more aware of them than they are of him.

  • Jonathan V

    Setting aside the phone orientation issue, which is a forgivable conceit done to enable the twist at the end, what “features” does this ad promise that an iPhone does not possess? None.

    The missing features you complain of are human, not technological. Your objection is that “pretending kids use their cameras to get closer to their family is simply a complete load of bull”.

    Advertising is aspirational, not reportorial. It reveals worlds made possible by products and encourages people to aspire to citizenship in those worlds. We’re already citizens of the real world, so it’s tough to resell it to us.

    However, though it is aspirational, the world this ad proposes is not only possible, it’s probable. In my own circle of friends, we routinely make impromptu musical slideshows of photos from a day spent together and gather around a phone to watch them. If you’re not living in a real world where people use technology to come together, perhaps it’s not the technology that is missing features but the people who are.

  • Makako

    Research Asperger’s syndrome. If you can put 1 and 1 together you may see this add a much different light.

  • Ok so now all teenagers in the US have Asperger’s?

    The kid is behaving like 90% of all teens these days. Paint a Venn-diagram. The sliver that’s overlapping with the kids that have Asperger’s is maybe 3%

  • I know all that. My point is that it’s manipulative because IMHO Apple has never been manipulative like this.

    Or no, they have. Last year with the Siri ads that were clearly presenting abilities that Siri does not have.

    My point is: in the past, Apple did great ads without pretending. Now they do. And that’s why these new ads suck.

  • Makako

    No. That specific child had Asperger’s.

    And no: the kid was not behaving like 90% of all teens these days. Even the most tech-obsessed child will put his phone down in extreme social situations.

    You are proof of precisely the message of the ad: you misunderstood the child’s problems. In this ad, the child’s family felt exactly the way you do. The child, though, (Asperger or perhaps functional autistic) simply has issues socializing and communicating with his family. That’s the point at the end: he used the video to tell his family how much attention he is actually paying to them and how much he cares about them.

  • You have a state of mind I’d call naively cynical. Bo-ring.

  • In a country that is over-medicating and where ADHD-diagnoses are through the roof, I guess you are right.
    The sheer idea that this kid simply is misunderstood because he’s a friggin TEENAGER seems to be completely beyond you.

  • Makako

    The fact that you dont understand is precisely the point of the ad. I personally had to deal with people like you every day of my life.

  • You are projecting.

    I went to school here:


    For NINE years.

    It’s nice that you think that this ad represents YOUR daily life. I get that. But honestly don’t you think that you are suffering from some kind of pareidolia, trying to find your personal and work life in this ad?

    Every teenager feels misunderstood. Not just the ones with a mental illness.

  • Makako

    OK, you win. This child, just like every other teeneger out there spends all his time filming a family video and editing it because thats what all teenagers do, film and edit family holiday videos…

    What teenager wastes time texting or playing Angry Birds, after all.

  • Look, I understand that you want this ad about mentally ill people because it’s what you dedicate your life to. I don’t need to “win” this.

    I mean if this ad WASN’T about teenagers, then all it would be is an inspirational ad about awareness about mentally ill teenagers.

    However great that might be do you _really really_ think it is? That apple did this to raise awareness? And NOT sell product?

    I mean you seemed quite cynical when you told me that you deal with “people like me” every day. Trust me, I know what you mean. I dealt with busses full of old people coming to Bethel to see the good work of the institution and in the end, visit the part of my home town as if it was a Zoo. I know how you feel.

    But seriously – I think apple is trying to sell iPhones. And not raise awareness. I mean it would be nice if they did but right now I kinda feel as if you really bought into this and that’s nice for Apple…

    Maybe I’m a tad more cynical than you. So in the end, you win :-)

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  • Jonathan V

    Oh come now. Don’t try to pretend that the I’m A Mac ads were some kind of sainted paragon of realism. I’m pretty sure using Gisele Bundchen to represent a home movie made on a Mac counts as manipulative. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcDpFLSTZWU

  • *snicker* Oh come on now :-)

    misrepresentation? That’s four people, two representing HARDWARE and two representing A MOVIE.

    If you are getting this literal then why not just say Hodgman isn’t even a computer… *eyeroll* :-)

  • Guest

    Maybe it’s just not liking family time as a teenager who at their age cannot bear to be around parents or adults. No mental disorder needed.

  • kitchology

    There is small 1 1.5 second gap before the video starts on the TV. A pregnant pause that is magnificent. this movie, this 90 second movie will be studied in film schools. very very potent.

  • Michael Ellis Day

    This is EXACTLY how it comes across to me. To be fair, I don’t know if this really was a conscious choice on the part of the creators of the spot, or if they just had the young man act like “the kind of person who acts all quiet and withdrawn at a family gathering” and he did such a good job of it that he even got the body language right. But whether deliberate or simply a fortunate accident, they created a powerful moment for a subset of people who can relate to that situation. I definitely choked up the first time I saw it.

  • Makako

    If the teenager cant bear to be around their parents or adults, the last thing in the world he would spend his free time is doing a video about the time he is spending with his parents and other adults. Not to mention: in the video, this personality remains while dealing with other kids in his age range.