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Did The Apple Brand Just Lose Another Shred Of Its Rebellious Spirit?

The new Apple Watch ad is beautiful, moving, and could just as easily be touting a giant insurance company.

Did The Apple Brand Just Lose Another Shred Of Its Rebellious Spirit?

A football player in Massachusetts, a country boy from small-town Mississippi, a ballet dancer, an Olympian, a blind marathoner, a father of a nine-year-old, a 99-year-old world traveler all read their letters to Tim Cook, thanking him for the benefits of the watch that has helped them get in shape, monitor medical conditions, and help save their lives. It’s touching stuff, featured in a beautifully shot (albeit long) commercial. But it’s not an Apple ad.

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I mean, it is an Apple ad–the newest spot for the Apple Watch, which was unveiled during the most recent Apple Event that launched the new iPhone, Watch features, and more. But the latest spot doesn’t feel very much like an Apple ad. It feels more like a really good insurance company ad.

Not long ago, I asked a handful of advertising execs for a Fast Company magazine piece to share their candid thoughts on what some of the world’s biggest brands were up to. One named Apple as a pick for Most Overrated Brands, saying, “I’m a true Apple fan, but I feel like the brand is still running on a lot of juice they had based on the things Steve Jobs created. He created something that knew what it stood for and who its enemy was. As a brand, I don’t feel that from Apple anymore. They’ve lost their spirit and that sense of who they’re for and against. To me, the advertising is getting soft. It feels like a typical big company. But there are a lot of great and talented people there. The reason I say they’re overrated is partly because of the incredibly high standard they set for themselves for so long.”

Remember the 2015 Lake Bell-narrated iPhone 6 spot–quick-witted, snappy, and cool? The Cookie Monster spot, or Bill Hader? Even the more emotionally charged ads used creative ways to get us misty-eyed, like the 2013 Christmas spot or the “Your Verse” iPad ad that used a Robin Williams monologue from Dead Poets Society to talk about tech. Single tear territory.

But this new commercial, as nice as it is, plays like a straight-up video testimonial, with no Apple-esque quirk to the format. Or at least not enough. In fact, it almost feels like two ads in one, with the unfortunate effect of each one diluting the other. There is a fitness spot–the blind marathoner, the push-ups at night lady, the Olympian, the skinny dude who wakes up at 5:30 a.m. And there is a medical spot–the football player, car accident guy, the nine-year-old diabetic. Both hinge on real-life stories of determination, inspiration, and ultimately, the product’s utility. But maybe if the company had hit one of those notes harder, focused on one rather than both, it would be a more impactful, more uniquely Apple-ish ad.

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That CCO’s line, “It feels like a typical big company” came straight to mind when I watched the ad. Those words—plus the parents in that funny old Samsung pisstake, whom I’m betting LOVE the new spot.

Is it unrealistic to expect a rebellious spirit from a company flirting with a $1 trillion market cap? Perhaps. But it’s worth noting when a big part of that company’s value–its brand image and personality–is shifting from that of a rebellious, creative risk-taker to a benevolent tech overlord in our daily lives. Both can make great ads, they just, uh, think differently about them.

About the author

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

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