Apple’s case of dance fever

It’s an interesting phenomenon—Apple runs an ad and the internet lights up with comment and commentary. (Points finger at self.)

Not sure many people appreciate how unusual this is. Ads from Dell or HP come and go, and passions rarely flare up. I suppose this is why so many people follow Apple—friend or foe, we actually care what it does.

The Apple story of the week is the new HomePod ad. Four minutes in length, I’m not sure you can call it an ad, but it’s out there and getting mostly positive reactions. Directed by Spike Jonze, psychedelic expanding sets, cool music, emotional dance … what’s not to like?

Oh no. Please don’t tell me you’re going to dump on this ad.

It’s not that I don’t like it. I think it’s beautifully produced, like all Apple ads. But it does make me feel like I’ve been here before. Or, more accurately, that I’ve been here many times before. Like I’m stuck in an infinite loop of Apple dancing ads.

Over the years, Apple has given us a virtual stream of ads in which music inspires someone to dance. The scenery changes, laws of physics are increasingly challenged, but the basic concept remains the same.

At least that’s been my overall impression. So the new HomePod ad moved me to action. After I finished dancing, I nosed around to see if my memory matched the reality.

For Apple Watch, we had an ad appropriately titled Dance.

For iPhone 7 and AirPods, we had Stroll. This is the one that introduced the concept of physically impossible dance.

For Apple Music, we got some celebrity dance featuring Taylor Swift.

Apple’s holiday ad, just a few months ago, gave us Sway. More of the physically impossible dance.

For Apple Watch and Apple Music, we got Roll. Think of it as dance on a skateboard.

And that’s just recent history. Everyone into the time machine! The iPod Silhouette campaign is the granddaddy of Apple dance ads.

Of course, you might say that the very first iPod ad set the stage for many dances to come—rather clumsily.

Going back before iPod, even Jeff Goldblum was given his dancing orders on behalf of iMovie.

I’m not sick of the dance idea because I’m anti-dance. I’m sick of it because I’m pro-creativity—and what I’ve loved about Apple advertising throughout history is its ability to shake things up, and go where it hasn’t gone before.

In my opinion, a company like Apple can take two approaches to advertising. It can start thinking about what works for the mainstream audience—like dancing and celebrities (who are also frequently summoned by Apple these days)—or it can use its mass-popularity to take the same risks today as it did when it was the underdog.

The latter is the Apple that captured so many hearts.

The iPod Silhouette campaign changed Apple advertising in a huge way. It was virtually the first Apple campaign that didn’t feature a lot of white space, a gorgeous product shot and clever words. Yes, it was a lot of dance, but it was a totally fresh take on dance.

By showing only silhouettes, it isolated and highlighted the emotional part of music. It showed us, quite dramatically, what it truly felt like to experience your favorite tunes. Even the device was only shown in silhouette. (Which was one reason Steve Jobs initially bucked at the idea.)

Dance is an expression of the joy we get from music, so you can’t say that Apple’s approach is wrong. You can say it’s become safe and predictable—which runs contrary to Apple’s core values.

And values are what Apple has always been about.