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 Far from withdrawn, he’s actually inspired.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.

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  • Guest

    Were you robbed of your adolescence or what? Hating to be around parents and relatives perceived to be uncool and corny doesn’t mean the kid can’t create something sincere. It’s a phase many, many teenagers go through–identity crisis, trying to rebel, contempt for authority figure and not wanting to be stuck at family gatherings.

  • Ruka Health Fitness

    I think if I was a teenager I’d try to make just this kind of movie – after seeing this ad.

  • mediagrunt

    Steve Jobs said that Apple products live at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. That is, they help us consume culture and become creators. Yes, the technology of other companies now does this too, but Apple did it first and they do it best. I’m glad to see that their marketing people still honor that ethos with their creative.

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  • mehstg

    If you have to have the advert explained, it’s failed. I didn’t see that the kid was somehow an outsider – he looked like every teenage kid I see these days. We get mawkish sentimentality in the UK by the bucketload at Christmas, and this is just another example. Sure the advert explains the phones technical competence, but really, get a grip.

  • Runner

    My wife and I were watching tv and saw that commercial. I turned to her and said, “thats a damn good commercial” Similar to the Dove ad almost.

  • Jasper Lai

    My only issue with this ad is that the boy holds the iPhone in portrait orientation, but the video at the end is in landscape.

  • macyourday

    Why do people always think that it’s about sucking in and/or creating consumers? It’s about showing things that can be done and are designed to be done with apple’s products. If that’s something you want to do, then try our offerings. It’s never ever about buy this and be cool or affluent or whatever sociopaths and narcissists think or say. It’s look at the cool, fun, interesting inspiring stuff you can do with the things we’ve made. I don’t give a …. If you think I’m being naive or a fanperson. Making a profit though, is imperative for the company to continue, especially as there is a world full of …holes trying to destroy them for no other reasons than spite, jealousy and ignorance as well as hate for demonstrating how incompetent and lacking any useful ideas (or at least the ability to implement them), their opponents are.

  • macyourday

    I don’t thinks it’s actually a ploy. I am most definitely a cynic, but it’s only a ploy insofar as setting up people who think that teens are withdrawn and obsessed with their devices. It’s not apparent what the kid is actually using (for most people) till the text at the end, so it’s not a hard sell with BRAND BRAND BRAND BRAND like most ads.

  • macyourday

    They’re not pretending anything. It shows what can be done. It’s certainly not saying apple will make you an inspired movie director or other creative genius which is what your spray seems to be suggesting. It’s not that effing complicated, just brilliantly executed, which 99.999% of ads are not because most are made by …holes or assume their audience are stupid, greedy …holes.

  • macyourday

    Seriously, Asperger??? Functional autistic? Seriously? WTF Are you people smoking?

  • macyourday

    You should try loosening yours.

  • Alfiejr

    yes, exactly. the ad will inspire thousands of kids to take video of their family tonight and tomorrow (even using Android phones). of course they will discover the editing process takes quite a bit more effort than Apple’s ad shows, and the clips’ action won’t be so storybook perfect. but they’ll come up with something fun, even if clumsy, and from the heart that everyone will want to watch, especially many years from now.

    i was a nerdy kid (pre-digital) too. i get it.

  • Jonathan V

    Sounds like an uncanny valley problem. It’s easy for you to suspend disbelief for a scenario as ridiculous as the I’m A Mac setups, but less so for something like Misunderstood that hews closer to real life.

  • mehstg

    Errr…you worship at the alter of a technology company and the article and much of the comments are at best cringeworthy. For many people here, it’s as if this advert is as emotionally charged as…say for example, the last 5 minutes of Cinema Paradiso. It’s not even remotely in the same galaxy as that. It’s just a company using an annual feelgood event to flog a device.

    Like I said. Get a grip.

  • mc

    If you are a tech writer and don’t understand this ad you have no business writing about tech. Because you don’t understand it.

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  • francini

    You said: “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.”

    That is amazingly cynical. And you’re obviously Too Above It All to appreciate the ad.

  • Nah. I’ve been a teenager.

  • francini

    He may also be merely very introverted. It’s the sort of behavior that many introverts might show in order to avoid excessive interaction with others.

  • francini

    And doing so is a problem how? What the heck is wrong with “mawkish sentimentality” at Christmastime? Must everything be logical, professional, and emotionless?

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  • mecd

    This was my first response to the spot. This boy is on the spectrum — my nephew is this boy. And I think that is supported by the family’s response to his Christmas Gift. This should be socilaized more…

  • Robert Olding

    In my humbled opinion … BEST AD EVER.

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  • art hackett

    Still gripping too hard and fast it seems

  • art hackett

    Thanks Ken. Far too many people have their toxic barrows to push, so it’s
    refreshing to see thoughtful, unbiased commentary amongst the rabid, ignorant clamour of the internet. Having worked in television for over thirty years, I’m well aware of the difficulties in producing anything worthwhile, let alone avoiding mawkishness, saccharine, and in your face product placement in this type of production. It’s a little Christmas miracle.

  • art hackett

    Spot on, except it didn’t seem that vague. It seems we left shortly before the basement scene with the cutting tools. Way too creepy but unfortunately probably accurate. Eewww. I feel ill now

  • art hackett

    Whoa there guys. It’s an excellent spot but I think you’re reading way too much into it. I think it’s just supposed to be a regular teen that can be identified with but instead of just withdrawing, he has a project that he’s immersed in that could only be made at this special time. It’s not that complicated, just incredibly well executed.

  • art hackett

    Edited out

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