Apple's ads don't generally require explanation. From the iconic "1984" Super Bowl spot to the silhouette and "I'm a Mac" campaigns, Apple's commercials are designed according to three rules: simplicity, straightforwardness and recognizability.
Take the latest iPod ad. No actors, no distracting voiceover, a catchy tune ("Yeah Yeah" by Willy Moon) and an obvious message: These things are fun and play music. Even if you've never used an iPod before, you can pretty much figure out what they do.
Same, too, with the iPhone 5 ads. While starkly different from the iPod spots — Apple sells a quiet sophistication with the iPhone and iPad in contrast to the hip rebellion of its iPod marketing, not unlike the PowerBook vs. iBook ads of old — the message is just as clear. These do have a voiceover (Jeff Daniels, recently of HBO's The Newsroom), but the action onscreen needs no explanation. We know it's an iPhone — Apple's been using the hand-handset motif since 2007 — and even with the volume on mute, we can still glean that this new iPhone is thinner and taller, etc.
That's why the "Genius" ads that debuted during the Olympics were so polarizing. While they weren't necessarily bad — as I wrote at the time, they were targeting an entirely new segment of the population — they didn't exactly follow the Apple rules of advertising design. The scenario in each was somewhat complicated and the message was rather muddled; it wasn't even all that clear what they were selling. It's not surprising that they didn't last longer than a few airings (and now they've been practically scrubbed from existence).
While not nearly as universally maligned, Apple hasn't exactly hit a home run with its iPad ads, either. The closest to a bona fide campaign was probably the "iPad is ..." spots, which featured a series of adjectives related to an app or function of the device ("current" for Flipboard, "literary" for iBooks, etc.). But none of them ever really resonated, and Apple dumped it altogether for the iPad 3, which had an ad that focused on its Retina Display. When the fourth generation landed last month, there was no accompanying TV spot.
Or so I thought. When I watched the iPad mini "Heart & Soul" ad for the first time during the live keynote, I appreciated its cleverness. It was vintage Apple; in its usual simple and straightforward way, we were told that: 1) there is a smaller iPad; and 2) it does the same great things.
But I was talking to a friend about it recently, and she saw things a bit differently.
"Man, Apple sure is pompous these days."
"What do you mean?"
"That new commercial. They really want you to buy two iPads?"
At first, I thought she was crazy. The ad, I argued, is merely showing that the smaller iPad is just as capable as the big one. But the more she talked, the more I began to see her point.
"They're playing two different parts of the same song!" she said. "Don't you get it? They need each other. They complete each other."
Maybe Apple didn't make an iPad 4 commercial because the mini spot sells both, with a brilliant stroke of subtlety. They do complement each other fairly perfectly — even more obviously in the newer "Photos" ad — and when the title screen appears at the end, "iPad" appears on its own for a brief second before being joined by "mini." Again, complementary.
My friend and I don't quite see eye to eye on the package deal, but I'm willing to accept the notion that there's some ambiguity in the design of the new ads. Buy a mini iPad. Or buy a big one.
But both? Well, I guess they won't try to talk you out of it.
Find Michael Simon on Twitter or App.net as @morlium.
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