To avid Apple watchers, the company’s latest ad for the iPad 2 isn’t really anything new: It eschews celebrity endorsements, outrageous claims, and pretty young things that tweak your atavistic impulses in favor of simply showing the product in use.
Over the last few years, the vast majority of Apple’s iPhone ads have taken the same tack, usually showing little more than a disembodied hand tapping and swiping. As such, the spots act as a sort of stand-in manual: By demonstrating the device onscreen, the commercials ensure that when customers eventually do pick up an iPhone, they already know how to use it. With the iPad, Apple has again taken a similar approach, letting its products speak for themselves.
Here’s the spot itself, followed by a transcription of the voiceover:
This is what we believe: Technology alone is not enough. Faster, thinner, lighter—those are all good things. But when technology gets out of the way, everything becomes more delightful—even magical. That’s when you leap forward. That’s when you end up with something…like this.
To those who view these things with the skepticism that so often results from our culture’s perpetual marketing blitz, the above might come off as nothing more than sentimental hogwash. And I certainly won’t waste time or breath arguing that it’s not a message crafted to sell you something—it’s advertising, after all.
But Apple’s ads are an oddity in a field that often prizes the big and flashy over simple and elegant. Too often, advertisements are designed to distract, to misdirect like a trained illusionist. It’s not about how the drink tastes, it’s about what it’ll do for your social life. It’s not about what the device does, it’s about the specs. Apple, on the other hand, designs its advertising with the same care and attention that it lavishes on its products.
Contrast Apple’s ad, for example, with this spot for what many see as the iPad’s closest competitor:
The Motorola Xoom tablet. With the velocity of a 1GHz, dual-core processor. 3D graphics engine. Gyroscope. And a widescreen HD display. Grab it, and it grabs you.
The message of this spot is clear: This tablet is about features, features, features. It has a fast processor. It plays cool games. It’s the future. (Though, given the Xoom’s track record, that future is yet to come.)
It’s not a matter of saying that one ad is honest while another is dishonest—obviously, there’s nothing in the Xoom spot that isn’t true. But Apple’s commercial is straightforward in comparison: no fancy computer effects, no chiseled male model, not even a direct appeal to the audience.
Apple builds its ads around expressing the company’s ethos, a message echoed in its press releases and live events: the company prides itself on making devices that do more than just get you from point A to point B faster. There’s an alliance of form, function, and message in Apple’s products and marketing that helps make them so effective.
At the end of the day, this ad, like so many of Apple’s others, isn’t about appealing to the feature-obsessed. In a brilliant move, the ad even points out the device’s most significant positives—faster, thinner, lighter—while also appearing to brush them away as if they’re incidental to the product.
Instead, Apple focuses on what technology frees you to do when it becomes transparent. When you don’t have to worry about gigabytes, megahertz, or what version of Bluetooth you have. The company’s FaceTime spot is a perfect example of this philosophy in action.
And while there’s been much pooh-poohing of Apple’s repeated use of the word “magical,” if you’ve ever seen a six-year-old kid’s eyes light up when she realizes what she can do with that iPad in her lap, well, you know there’s more than a grain of truth in there.
The message of Apple’s ad? The iPad 2 is the tablet for the things you can do—and want to do—today. The future is here.
[Dan Moren is a senior associate editor of Macworld.]