It opens in a snow-covered, remote mountain town. A man with a deep, gravelly voice is recording a music box tune on his iPhone. This guy looks familiar, in more ways than one. As he trudges through the snow to pick up a package, it becomes clear it’s the legendary Frankenstein (and Brad Garrett under some pretty heavy make-up) making some mystery preparations. As he makes his way to the town square, it soon becomes apparent Frankenstein is getting up the courage to offer up his own special festive contribution proceedings.
In the end, we get a message of inclusion and hope, topped with the tagline “Open Your Heart to Everyone.” It’s a message not unfamiliar to holiday advertising, but one that hits an especially strong chord amid the post-election uproar. This is the fourth year in a row that Apple has welcomed the Christmas season with a very British-flavored approach to the holidays–one that aims for your heartstrings as much as your wallet.
Last year, the brand’s ad was a music-based spot starring Stevie Wonder and Andra Day, but Frankenstein harks back to Apple’s more narrative story-driven approach seen in 2014’s “The Song,” and the award-winning 2013 spot “Misunderstood.”
In one of his first interviews since joining the company late last year, I spoke to Vice President of Marketing Tor Myhren about the strategy behind the new holiday spot.
Co.Create: First things first: That is Brad Garrett, right? And second, “Open Your Heart to Everyone” is a pretty traditional holiday message, but especially relevant right now. We read Tim Cook’s letter to Apple employees touching on this very sentiment. Was part of the ad’s intent to tie into these times?
Tor Myhren: [Laughs] Yes, that’s him! And no, this is definitely not a response to the election. Inclusion is and has for a long time been one of Apple’s core values, and I think we’ve looked for a couple times throughout this year to communicate that to the world. I’m sure you’ve seen the Maya Angelou “Human Family” spot from the Olympics, which was an opportunity to talk about it when the world was watching. What a great time to talk about inclusion, and in some ways, the holidays are similar. We wanted to put out a message from Apple around this time of year that reminds everyone that what drives us as human beings is the desire for human connection.
“Misunderstood” was a huge hit for the brand in 2014, “The Song” in 2014 was also a tearjerker, and last year there was a bit of a switch up away from a narrative spot to a fun music-based, and now you’re back to a narrative story–How did the idea for this come about?
It’s been four or five years that Apple has gone to market during the holidays with a message we hope strikes a chord with people, that goes beyond product and into emotional storytelling. And certainly we hope it’s a part of this one. Last year went at that more from a music standpoint, this one’s more of a classic narrative. There’s different ways in, but hopefully the end result is a nice piece of film that makes you think about the holidays in a slightly different way.
Apple’s advertising, even when it’s a glorified product demo, often still has an emotional aspect, even if it’s just the soundtrack or voice. How do you make the decision between a more product-focused spot, and something more story-driven?
Obviously we’re super proud of our products and a lot of the marketing and advertising we do is product-focused, and brings our products to life in a number of ways. As we approach the holidays, we very intentionally didn’t want this to be seen as a product spot. The iPhone is obviously still a part of it. Of course Frankenstein uses an iPhone. Why wouldn’t he? But really the intention here, as it’s been for a few years, was to play at a bit of a higher emotional level, and in this case, to communicate one of our core brand values.
How does this ad tie back into your overall strategy for the brand right now?
If you look at what Apple has done historically over the past few years, it really is continuing in that tradition. It’s been a very successful tradition, so it’s a if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it type of thing. We do look at this time of year as a time to put out a message larger than product. It doesn’t really reflect my take on things at all, it’s just something Apple does and I’m hoping it fits in with that long line of great holiday spots.
In light of how popular the more emotionally driven British Xmas ads are every year, is there more of an expectation now for brands to make the big-hearted holiday spot?
Particularly in America, and probably in many places around the world, a lot of companies still tend to do the really hard-sell, price-based, retail advertising around the holidays. That’s what you’re surrounded with, and I will say that there are a few brands like John Lewis who have stepped outside of that to remind us there’s more to the holiday season than getting the biggest discount. It’s a time to think about ourselves, our families, the world around us, and for us it’s also thinking about one of our core values.
So you want to give us a bit of a breather from that hard sell?
Yep, and we talked exactly about that. We said we wanted this to be something that during this time when people are being inundated with these hard-sell messages, can we give people a minute or two of just a really nice piece of entertainment that ties really tightly to something we believe strongly in at Apple.
Are you going to go the full John Lewis, and start selling neck light Xmas iCollars, or any other product tie-ins?
[Laughs] No, you won’t be seeing Frankenstein at the Apple Store any time soon.