Jul 15

Apple Watch ads: beautiful, classy & forgettable

Well, now we know why Apple went silent with the Watch ads after its initial flurry. They’ve been busy beavers over there.

Now we have four new big-budget ads featuring a cast of dozens acting out scenarios shot all over the world.

The only problem — they’re the wrong ads at the wrong time.

At a moment when many seem to be on the fence about the Watch, these spots are just sleepy. They’re lacking in fun and excitement, and not the kind of ad you rave to your friends about.

Even worse, they actually give credibility to the doubters. Among the unusually high number of negative comments on the Apple-centric sites are many along the lines of “They made me realize how little I need an Apple Watch.”

One of the great cliches in advertising is the commercial designed specifically to pull customers’ heartstrings. Puppies and babies have long been the favored tools to achieve the effect.

I don’t believe Apple has stooped to the puppy level yet, but they’re way ahead of the game in the baby department. (The commercial above being a prime example.) In recent years, it feels like we’ve had more than our share of babies and toddlers, along with happy parents, grandparents and loving couples.

Clearly there is a feeling inside Apple that this type of advertising captures the spirit of the company. It’s elegant, intelligent and understated. And it’s always worked before, right?

Well, yes and no.

If you look at what worked for iPhone and iPad, the launch campaigns were not at all like this. Most consisted of close shots of the device, demonstrating its many different uses. They clearly said “Here’s something very new.” They created desire.

Am I suggesting that Apple make new commercials more like the original iPhone ads?

Nope. I’m suggesting that they run the one they already made. Leading up to the April 24th launch, for just a short while, Apple gave us “The Watch Reimagined”:

This ad shows the craftsmanship of the Watch and vividly displays the surprising and useful things it can do. The lively music also gives it a personality — unlike the montage soundtracks, which add to the sleepiness factor.

Only a tiny fraction of the Watch’s value comes across in the new commercials — and what’s missing is exactly the part the fence-sitters need to see. (Even the amateur ad makers are filling the void.)

I get Apple’s desire to create ads that are elegant and human. The products themselves are elegant and human. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that elegance and humanity is the best way to reignite the buzz that greeted the Watch.

This isn’t the time for quiet reflection. The Watch needs to feel new, important, exciting and fun. It needs a healthy dose of Apple delight.

I’m sorry, but the more I see of these montage-style ads from Apple, the more I hear Heath Ledger’s Joker saying … “Why so serious?”

Here are links to the other three ads in this series: Berlin, Beijing and Goals.


  • Roland

    Great piece Ken.
    I bought the Apple Watch last Friday and am going to return it today. The workmanship, the feel, the cool-factor are all clearly executed like only Apple can, but the balance between Want vs. Need tipped clearly towards No Need (at this moment in time). When I doubt if I should get the ‘S’ version of the iPhone, I would turn to the Apple website and its ads, or even look what Mr. Mosberg and Pogue had to say and have them influence me to take out the credit card and line up. This time, they haven’t been able to convince me… seduce me enough to keep the watch.

  • Doug Trace

    This article exactly describes my thoughts as I watched new new ads this morning. The marketing for the time frame is way off. The everyday “joe” who may or may not wear a watch needs a compelling reason to drop his hard earned cash. These ads, while beautiful, are far from compelling. They only provide reasons for me to further enjoy/justify what I’ve already purchased.

    I love my Apple Watch for many reasons, but at the top of the list are the endless micro-moments that add up to a mountain of convenience. ‘What time is it’, ‘who’s calling, texting or emailing’, ‘what’s the weather’, ‘whats the date’, ‘whats next on my to-do list’, play/pause music’, ‘fitness tracker’…….all of these and more throughout the day allow me to ignore my iPhone and just get things done.

    Apple needs to get ahead of this one.

  • Hamish

    Excellent analysis and I couldn’t agree more. Apple’s ads of late have become rather sleepy and lacking in the energy and pep of the classic Mac v. PC, iPod silhouettes, iPhone early days style ones. Even the Apple Music promo spots I’ve seen are lacking in the pure energy you would expect. It’s all got a bit safe and dull. I wonder who’s behind these adverts and who’s behind the promo shorts like ‘The Watch Reimagined’ – agency or in house…

  • Kevin

    I really enjoy these analyses of ads. Can you please give us your opinion on the “If it’s not an iPhone” ads? I would really love to know.

  • ksegall

    That’s coming up next. Later this week…

  • “One of the great cliches in advertising is the commercial designed specifically to pull customers’ heartstrings. Puppies and babies have long been the favored tools to achieve the effect.”

    Funny you say this. Have you seen the new Windows 10 ad? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFJ1a1D4hdo

  • ksegall

    Perfect! No, I hadn’t seen it.

    Former Microsoft chief marketing guy Mark Penn was famous for this stuff. Perhaps it was his going-away contribution.

  • JamesDanielGibson

    This is where it excels! People have asked me what I think about my Watch and I say “It does what it does.” I really don’t know how I can say it any better, but thanks Doug! You’ve given me a starting point. Now if Apple can put this sentiment into thirty seconds…

  • Is that the same Mark Penn who worked on the Hillary campaign in 08?

  • Don’t forget movie stars, thanks to Edward Bernays. ] He combined the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud.

  • ksegall

    That be he!

  • This one was better than I thought it was going to be, mostly because it was so short.

  • Herding_sheep

    I think this trend of Apples ads lately, including their new “there’s nothing like an iPhone” bit on their homepage, has become a bit self-indulgent lately. I get it, Apples devices changed industries, and those industries changed daily life. But….like you said Ken, why so serious? They’re feeding right into the haters hands, and enforcing the stereotype that Apple is arrogant and perhaps snobby.

    Apple needs to capture back the fun, excitement, and personality they used to have. The pretentious Apple I fear is turning off some people who DONT take these devices so seriously.

  • tyyriz

    don’t the berlin and beijing ads overpromise? They both show ppl completely untethered but don’t they need an iphone in their pocket to do most of those things (search for hospital, send a note, email)? and if they need an iphone connected to the internet aren’t they burning through an immense cost in phone data international charges (my ATT is so egregious I buy a disposable phone/SIM in Europe rather than use my iphone).

    nice commercials but am I missing something? they seem to advertise a world full of free ubiquitous wifi that doesnt exist.

  • ksegall

    Not that I care to defend these spots, I don’t see the untethered-ness in them. In each case, the iPhone would be in a pocket or pocketbook.

    By the way, I found a solution for the international data charges by simply moving to T-Mobile. Unlimited text and data in 120 countries included in their standard plans. “Unlimited” is a bit of a tease, since they do throttle you back when you hit the limit of your chosen plan, but at least they don’t cut you off.