Why The New Taylor Swift Apple Spot “Isn’t A Toothpaste Ad”

Apple Music head of content Larry Jackson talks about the new Swift ad, how the campaign started, and what it represents for the brand.

Here’s a prediction: Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” will skyrocket in popularity this week. Why? Because Taylor Swift is getting ready to go out, she needs a song, and–in her newest commercial for Apple Music–she picks this 2001 hit for a lipstick-applying lip sync session.


The new spot comes two weeks after Swift took an epic bail on a treadmill to the tune of Drake’s “Jumpman,” which has more than 60 million views on social video, and gave Apple Music’s #GYMFLOW playlist a 439% boost in listeners. So chances are Jimmy Eat World and the rest of “Jukebox Hits: ’00s Alternative Rock” playlist can expect a similar halo.

In its short history, Apple Music has come up with some pretty memorable commercials. Not at all unexpected, really given Apple’s long, impressive overall ad history and ability to attract big names. And the brand’s music streaming service certainly followed its parent’s formula soon after launch, but soon after began really flexing its commercial clout by not only recruiting big names but showing another side to these artists and involving them in the creative process. These have ranged so far from The Weeknd and Kenny Chesney, to a mixtape party with Scandal star Kerry Washington, Empire’s Taraji P. Henson, and Mary J. Blige.

For Apple Music head of content Larry Jackson, the Swift spots represent the brand’s vision for not only working with artists on music releases, like Drake’s upcoming weeklong exclusive for his new album, but marketing strategy as well.

“Taylor Swift lives at Apple Music, Drake lives at Apple Music, with so many other artists,” says Jackson. “They use the product. This isn’t a toothpaste ad. This is a place where their ideas are carried through with respect and reverence. We want to be able to allow artists to come here and have their ideas happen in their purest form. That’s why I’m so proud of this campaign–Taylor came to us with an idea, and I protected it for dear life, because it’s that good.”

Jackson’s goal is to make Apple Music a clubhouse where great artists gather together, and that includes using brand marketing to tap into potential new audiences. “I’ve had this idea for a few years, that you could have this creative haven for artists, and there could be synergy among these people in the clubhouse, and this campaign is a perfect manifestation of that,” says Jackson. “That first ad, for example, the Drake and Future album was a one-week exclusive on Apple Music, they’re both in the clubhouse. To use that song, from that album by two guys who wear the jersey, in that commercial, was such a symbiotic thing, and had such unspoken power because you’ve got Drake, Future, and Taylor, who are all part of the Apple Music family, so to speak. To have Drake and Future benefit from a commercial with Taylor, made me really proud.”

There was no ad agency on this campaign, just Swift, Jackson and director Anthony Mandler. The goal behind the spots was to take Swift’s ideas and make something that was more than just another ad. “How do we get someone’s attention who’s bombarded all day by so much media, how do we cut through the clutter and do something that isn’t just more wallpaper or elevator music, which is what a lot of ads are?” says Jackson. “Taylor had an idea that was so good, and so simple, it was tough to take it to anyone else as it wasn’t a conventional idea.”


When it comes to the ads, Jackson sees a few parallels to the music business. “If this was a song, I was her producer,” says Jackson. “In that sense, the producer encourages the artist to get to where they want to go. When you’re dealing with an incredible artist, all you need to do is be a savvy sounding board to get the result.”

This is a multi-part campaign, though Jackson wouldn’t elaborate on just how many more ads Swift may star in, and in it Jackson finds another record analogy. “Our strategy is to actually roll this campaign out like we would a record,” he says. “You release one single, it’s got a certain longevity, then the next single drops. What we’re doing here, to avoid it all fading out too soon, is using the same cadence as an album–spot comes out, hype dies down two week later, then out comes another spot, same thing happens, then drop the next one. So we’re using the same approach with spots as we would with singles.”


About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.