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.
Ken, you would be an authority in explaining the significance of how music helped Apple get to where they are today.
I’m sure you have stories on how the idea of the iPod made it from an idea to the best selling media player of all time.
This was one of the pillars that kept Apple in the black while they developed new computers, the iPad and iPhone. Plus, the music, television and movie industry was willing to partner with Apple in delivering content that would protect their property and make them money. It also made Apple a ton of money, so it’s only natural that Apple stay true to music.
With the rumors that Apple is ceasing downloads of music and going to subscription only is worrying the public and musicians and Apple will need to address this soon.
Hi Ben, I totally absolutely 100% agree with you. Music has been a critical part of Apple’s DNA since iPod. I wholeheartedly agree that Apple needs to be marketing music, even more heavily today than in the past. But my point is that Apple has been marketing music the same way, time after time. I’d love to see ads that are as fresh today as the iPod Silhouettes were many years ago. If the strategy is “Apple is the best way to love your music,” it can be executed a thousand different ways—and probably 990 of them might not be so dance-centric!
You forgot that Apple was involved with music since the launch of the Apple IIGS 1986, a few years before Photoshop was released 1989-90 that made graphics designer move to the Macintosh because PS support for MS-WIN didn’t came until v. 2.5 released in 1992 and Macintosh receive the updates earlier than MS-WIN before v. 4.0 released 1996.
But this isn’t just dance, it is how music made her day better. I find that true over and over again; some great music makes a bad day livable and a good day great. Sure it made her dance, but it also made her smile.
I agree with you too! But if that is the concept, does it have to be executed by showing people bursting into dance? Maybe someone who becomes stronger, braver, more adventurous, more loving, more anything? Again, I appreciate everything about the new HomePod ad. I only wish Apple would branch out and try expressing the power of music in new, more creative ways.
You know, we can also look at the ad and see Spike Jonze doing that Spike Jonze thing that we saw in Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and the one I can’t spell. In a way we’re all trapped inside the prison we build for ourselves.
I’m not a dancing kind of guy, so I’ve never been really felt a connection with commercials featuring people dancing. I do think it’s kind of fun seeing the special effects in these dancing ads. I did watch the ad all the way through because of that.
Thinking about how Apple might approach music another way, I can imagine an ad built around that other activity that people playing music alone often do: singing. It’d probably be more self-deprecating than glorifying. My singing, however I may imagine it, is never the equivalent to their dancing. Still, an ad in which a listener is transformed into a rock star, opera diva, whatever, would be another way to play on the idea of music as freeing us from our mundane immediate existence.
Jonny Evans posted “How far we are from gender equality in one picture from corporate America” on iMust. It is actually eleven portraits of Apple executives. In addition to pointing out that those pictured are mostly male, Jonny made an interesting aside, “It also seems primarily pale.”
Apple’s media uses people of color to (something) it’s lack of Black people on their campus. They started with Sinbad and Gregory Hines. Yes, Greg was a dancer; coincidence.
Some pundits intimated that Apple’s efforts were not Black enough, or just not enough. The response was the Silhouette: Black people shown as black silhouettes. Was that what being Black at Apple had come to? It reminded me of Black people dancing in blackface 🙁
So before you dump on the latest ad, look at how far Apple has come…
Just how far has Apple come
It is fantastic short film, but is it an ad?
Ridley Scott had just 30 seconds, not 4 minutes, but managed to relay the product perfectly at his 1982 “There are Rivets…” Levis ad.
I don’t see anything about the product in Apple’s ad. To me it is a sponsored short.
But, it should be nominated for a SOFIE…
Dance isn’t just about music, it’s about portability: taking music (and other audio content) anywhere you want, first with the iPod, then with other stuff. Granted, the HomePod isn’t a portable device but the addition of Siri gives it a kind of “hands-off” feel that’s maybe akin to portability.
That said, dance and movement is wed to music, even for an old fart like me. I can’t dance like FKA Twigs but I can identify with wanting to move to music and like the first iPod ad, portability and hands-off helps with that.
Generally I think you’re right. However, Apple have built up a lot of recognition for this type of stylised advert with dancing, so you know it’s them before the logo ever comes up. That’s brand consistency for you, though it’s perfectly fair to say they’ve being following this approach for too long now and could use a change.
There’s also the issue of owning Beats and needing to keep advertising for both brands different, but I agree there’s a lot of new ways to creatively approach music advertising which would be fun to explore.
On a non-music note, what Apple adverts have you liked recently Ken?
I absolutely agree with you.
All those stylish dance figures with a cool music now relates with Apple, and I also believe this brings the consistency.
I really respect and appreciate the creative work and personally I don’t think I have the guts to criticize the home pod ad 🙂
I truly like what Ken Segall says and I truly believe this idea can be executed in many different ways, but creating a brand consistency should also be a responsibility for the brand team.
I know that creative people are always running after something new, something never been tried, which is what’s expected from them.
But on the other hand, being a consistent brand is another imperative issue.
You can not just hold one side, you should keep them in balance.
I interpret the ad as a visualisation of the soundscapes that HomePod is capable of producing, making a small room feel endlessly varied and expansive through sound, or perhaps the point is that any size or shape room will accommodate the HomePod. I think its more than just dance gone psychedelic. I also think it’s also difficult to separate dance from music, a big part of listening and responding to music is dance. It also provides a way for the transformation of the room, and the implications of that, to happen. Would it be better if we just saw a lot of kids that are too cool to dance nodding their heads and perhaps all this happened around them, while they passively smoked a joint or something? It’s not raw or lo-fi like the other HomePod ad – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lR7OZ7ZmZVI – but Apple need ads for all sides of their market, and indeed that’s what they’re doing with a variety of approaches (see also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hw9skL-IXc).
Excellent comment, thanks. I think you’re right—this is Apple’s way of showing what HomePod can do for a room. Utterly transform it. Make it feel more like something bigger and better. I’m not sure how many people will actually take that out of this ad, but that concept makes a lot of sense.
That said, I get into this discussion a lot, about “how else could Apple have said it?” The implication is that this works really well, and therefore nothing else would work better. Obviously, that’s not true. Great creative people would go wild with an assignment as juicy as this. The possibilities are without limit. I’m only lamenting that Apple has been stuck in this groove for a long time, and things get a lot more exciting when they push the limits.
Honestly, I think one reason this ad got produced is that the current Apple is infatuated with celebrities—and that includes celebrity directors. Spike Jonze certainly didn’t sign on to direct a storyboard that was handed to him. He was likely given the concept, or helped develop the concept, and told “do his thing” with it. He did a pretty great thing—which just happens to echo a bunch of things Apple has done before.
The “spot” opens with a woman on a crowded train, a crowded street, followed by a crowded elevator, before arriving home. I guess the HomePod gives her “Room to Move” (a great late 60s song by John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers). Like most, I like the video a lot. It’s just that I begin to lose the HomePod pretty early into it, and start thinking Apple Music. I guess the fact that the spot takes place inside a home is a little different for Apple, but I listen to Apple Music as much at home as I do out out of home. I have not seen the :60 cutdown. Maybe the HomePod connection will be stronger in a shorter version. It’s not a miss, but is it enough to move product? I never like to bet against Apple.
I love this ad. It has so much emotion and feels genuine. On another way music and specifically the home pod could be shown to transform a home, I had one idea in mind that’s a personal experience for me. Imagine a clean, tidy, yet typical ikea catalogue like living room. The protagonist is getting ready to have people over, laying out food, serving plates, cutlery and they have just finished tidying up. They press play, my music of choice is baroque but i digress. the room is suddenly filled with flowers, plants, and all the aforementioned food, cutlery, plates shine ever so slightly, look more appetising and the room feels glowing only again enough to show but not magical. I think a space is transformed by music visually because of the feelings it evokes.