Apple’s momentary lapse of reason

Honestly, I never thought I’d hear today’s version of Apple say such a thing: “We missed the mark with this video and we’re sorry.”

Then again, the natives don’t usually show up at Apple’s door, pitchforks in hand. However forced the apology might have been, kudos to Apple for respecting customers enough to admit its error.

That said, given that Apple “missed the mark” by a few light years, it’s fair to ask: How the hell could this even happen in the first place?

Crush joins an elite group

Apple has a long and illustrious history of great advertising. Only twice in the past forty years has it received a public shaming for an ad or campaign.

In the 1985 Super Bowl, the Lemmings ad insulted the very audience it was trying to win. During the 2012 Summer Olympics, the Genius campaign was savaged for being embarrassingly unfunny. (Even I couldn’t resist joining the attack on that one.)

Now, once again, the welcome banners are up at Apple’s Advertising Hall of Shame, as Crush takes its well-earned place in this mini-pantheon of failures.

And so it began

It always starts with the creative brief. This one practically wrote itself: iPad Pro delivers the most powerful tools of creativity in the thinnest device Apple has ever built. So, strategy wasn’t the problem. Execution was.

Who knows how many storyboards were submitted by how many creative teams, but Crush emerged the winner.

From that point on, it was all about production values—and Crush was wonderfully produced by every measure. Its striking images and superb effects came with an unexpectedly perfect soundtrack.

But, there was one problem. A big problem. A fatal flaw. One that somehow, miraculously, escaped detection until the day the ad was released.

Crush was astonishingly tone-deaf.

Et tu, Apple?

Apple and creators have had a symbiotic relationship since … well, forever. Sure, the relationship has seen its ups and downs, but it has endured and expanded. Apple understands the creative spirit because it embraces that spirit itself.

If only AI hadn’t entered the picture.

AI is not driven by the creative spirit. It is driven by cold, hard cash. It is incapable of originality. It simply harvests the work of original artists and assembles it into something fake-original—without compensating the humans who create for a living.

Naturally, the world’s artists are fighting back. And, naturally, they assume they can count on Apple, champion of creativity, to be on their side.

But it’s complicated. Apple is lumped in with the “big tech” held responsible for the threats posed by AI. Tim Cook has publicly proclaimed that AI will play a big part in Apple’s future. Apple has to be careful in the way it communicates.

With Crush, Apple did not show much care. In fact, it didn’t show any care. The ad made it feel like the company was suddenly insensitive to the threat. To creators, it felt like a sucker-punch delivered by a old friend.

Surely Apple didn’t mean to insult the creative community. That’s just the unintended result. Which is the very definition of tone-deaf.

A haunting in Cupertino

I was under the impression that the ghost of Lemmings had been exorcized from Apple HQ decades ago. Apparently not—because Crush manages to alienate its audience in a strangely parallel way.

Lemmings was an ad for the “Macintosh Office.” It was meant to gain Apple entry into the business world, where it was virtually nonexistent at the time.

With zero self-awareness, Lemmings depicted its target audience as a line of businesspeople blindly walking off the edge of a cliff. Those poor fools better open their eyes to Macintosh! It was a shocker, for all the wrong reasons.

Similarly, Crush tries to win the hearts of creators by visualizing the destruction of their cherished instruments. Spooky.

Checks and balances

Crush was created by Apple’s in-house creative group, not by its outside ad agency. Apple has literally brought this upon itself.

This is surprising, because Apple (like any big organization) requires multiple levels of approval. The creative team sells the concept to the new creative director. The VP Marketing gives it his thumbs-up. It goes nowhere without Tim Cook’s blessing.

Which leads to the most important question in this whole sordid affair: What’s wrong with these people?

Knowing the customer is absolutely mandatory for Apple executives. It’s at the core of everything Apple does. As its leaders have maintained for decades, Apple and the creative community share a beating heart.

Yet somehow, amid the high-stakes scrutiny of a major product launch, at a time when creators need Apple’s support more than ever, it never dawned on the executive team that Crush might send the wrong message.


Cleanup on Aisle 6

Last, it’s interesting to consider how Apple has chosen to deal with this.

When the 2012 Genius campaign was maligned far and wide, it was yanked off the air in a matter of days and simultaneously deleted from Apple’s website and YouTube Channel. Instead of an apology, there was a whitewash. Apple PR said that the campaign was scheduled to run for only a few days all along. Uh, right.

Crush is getting a different treatment. It was the beneficiary of a quick apology (good) and Apple has removed it from broadcast TV (good). However, the ad remains visible in all other media (not so good).

In summary—the bank robber was caught red-handed, expressed deep regret, and returned half of the money. Not entirely satisfying, but probably enough to ease Apple’s pain.

Personally, I’d appreciate one more apology before the case is closed.

I’m forever scarred by the horrific squeeze-till-its-eyes-pop death of that adorable smiley at the end. How dare you Apple! Please pledge that you’ll provide a safe workplace for all emojis moving forward.