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Apple’s comfy holiday message to parents: Screen time is good! (Really)

The holidays are a perfect time to make the iPad look like a creative tool for heartfelt endeavors, not a brain-sucking zombie-maker. Apple’s new ad just does that.

Apple’s comfy holiday message to parents: Screen time is good! (Really)

The hallowed American holiday Thanksgiving is upon us, which means a lot of families are going to be traveling to be with other members of their family for some eating, drinking, arguing, and merrymaking. IF you have kids, this means you’ll probably be relying heavily on the power of screen time, whether it’s on a plane, in the car, or simply to let them kill time between dinner courses in a way that doesn’t involve random acts of kid-inflicted violence and/or property damage. The balancing act for any parent during the holidays is to give your kids enough screen time so that you get some peace of mind, but not so much that the rest of your family is judging you for turning your progeny into screen-obsessed zombies.

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Luckily, Apple is here with a new holiday commercial that presents screen time as a creative endeavor, not an endless wormhole of streaming options.

For two-thirds of the spot, two daughters exist to annoy the adults—first their parents, then their grandfather. Too loud. Too rambunctious. All it takes to calm them down and get a little peace and quiet is . . . the iPad. This is not a newsflash for any parent. The iPad has become the 21st Century soother, guaranteed to be effective until kids are, oh I don’t know, 35. But here, Apple adds a surprise.

These girls aren’t just wasting their time watching the never-ending loop of YouTube unboxing videos or old episodes of Friends; they use this creative tool to make an unforgettable, heartwarming tribute to their recently passed grandmother. The gesture brings tears to their grandpa’s eyes, and a proud look is exchanged between their parents. Also probably relief—relief that all that screen time had a beneficial outcome and not, as the one report on 60 Minutes last year suggested, lower scores on aptitude tests and whatever cortical thinning in the brain is. This ad is a reassuring arm around the shoulders that looks at how much your kids use or beg to use the iPad, and says, “It’s all going to be alright.”

This is a master class in comfy reassurance commercialism. It’s something we see all the time in advertising, where a product of convenience pitches itself as a problem-solver, simultaneously making you feel less guilty for needing it. Better meals. A cool, organized house. A clean house. Screen time. The emotional journey from haggard travel to family loss to inspirational kids, all set to the soundtrack from perhaps the most tear-inducing scene Pixar ever made? It’s a sentimental super weapon.

It’s not even the first time Apple has used the ole’ screen time fake out, making us first believe the kids in the spot are mindless automatons, only to reveal their creative genius. Back in 2013, we got another traveling family on another trip to see the grandparents. The hero then was an iPhone-obsessed teenage boy who eventually reveals himself to be the next Spielberg. Or at least an aspiring advertising exec.

In its own holly, jolly way, Apple is telling us the kids are alright, and so are you. Oh, and buy an iPad.

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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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