Apple's Ad-ventures

Have you watched TV lately? Then you've probably met Mr. Shaeffer.

He's the would-be filmmaker who stars in one of Apple's latest TV commercial for its iBook, selecting the middle seat on an airplane, so he can set up a digital video camera and a stack of CDs alongside his portable computer. It's all part of the aspiring auteur's efforts to create an iMovie tribute to his girlfriend and her dog -- complete with a soundtrack from the Baha Men.

"Middle Seat" is just one of the ads created for Apple by advertising agency TBWA/Chiat/Day. These ads -- which have garnered both praise and pans in the Apple forum -- represent a departure for the computer maker, advertising critics say. Gone are the images of iMacs rotating on plain-white backgrounds to classic rock music. Instead the iBook, Titanium PowerBook G4, and iTunes are shown off in airplanes and in empty theaters to the melodious strains of "Who Let the Dogs Out" and "The Radio Still Sucks."

The ads clearly play a major role in getting Apple's message out to the masses. Steve Jobs concluded last month's Macworld Expo keynote by showing off three of the TV commercials -- "Middle Seat," the "Rip. Mix. Burn." ad for iTunes, and "Elope," the latest TV spot touting the merits of iDVD.

Apple's new ads may be different, but are they good? Do they make Mac owners proud? And, more important, will they encourage other computer users to cross over to the Mac?

"These ads are nearly as good as the '1984' ads," says advertising analyst Bob Garfield, recalling the legendary ad campaign that introduced the Macs to the rest of the world. That's high praise -- Advertising Age considers Apple's "1984" commercial to be one of the top 100 ad campaigns of the twentieth century.

"But these are the anti-1984 ads," adds Garfield, a columnist for Advertising Age and AdReview. "The 1984 ads did not do one single thing to illustrate or demonstrate the technology. These commercials dramatize in a very engaging way specific features. This is about function and killer apps."

To find out how well Apple's new approach plays in the advertising world, we talked to three experts -- Garfield, Advertising Age online editor Hoag Levins, and Michael Wilke, executive director of Commercial Closet Association -- to get their thoughts on five Apple TV ads.

iBook: "Middle Seat"

A young lad alternately annoys and delights his fellow airplane passengers as he puts together an iMovie on his iBook.

Levins: An ode to Apple's "Think Different" slogan, the college-age hero in this spot selects the middle seat in an airliner row and, in seconds, configures his iBook as a professional-grade video-editing suite smaller than a tray table. The adults in the aisle and window seat look on, first annoyed but quickly amazed at the ease and power of the laptop's image-editing and CD sound features. An engaging, effective, and memorable ad.

Garfield: You instantly want to find out why he wants the middle seat. This demonstrates how easy video editing can be. It's unexpected and charming.

Wilke: I saw this commercial on TV and was tickled by it. It's quite a departure from Apple's past classic-Volkswagen type ads, takes a turn for realism and a subtlety rarely felt in commercials, yet still prominently features the product and its capabilities. The best in the campaign.

iTunes: "Rip. Mix. Burn."

A man brings together his favorite musicians -- from Liz Phair to Ziggy Marley -- to show how easy it is to burn your own CDs on iTunes.

Levins: This obtuse spot is set in a baroque theater, empty except for a single male student who talks to the rock and R&B music stars clustered on stage. The student indicates what song he wants each of them to sing just for him. The message is that you can use a Mac to create a CD of your favorite music tracks. But that's not instantly clear. Dense and clumsy.

Garfield: The idea of getting Smash Mouth, George Clinton, and Barry White together on one stage is delightful. It's a linear, logical, and surprising way to dramatize burning your own music mix.

Wilke: Less straightforwardly plain than the PowerBook spot, this one nonetheless still illustrates with style the multimedia abilities of the computer as a clever realization of a dream -- who wouldn't be thrilled at pulling together all our favorite musicians in one place, in a concert just for us?

PowerBook G4

The disembodied voice of Jeff Goldblum sings the praises of the Titanium PowerBook G4.

Levins: The image is one of Spartan simplicity: a Titanium PowerBook G4 spins slowly, suspended in white space, lifting the screen cover to display itself. The close and personal view immediately demonstrates its amazing thinness and video-processing power in a manner that makes the audio tagline ring true, so true: "You're going to so want one." We do.

Garfiled: A simple image to demonstrate the simplest point. These features are cool. This shows off the European design of the Titanium PowerBook.

Wilke: A departure from Apple's usually cool, more pop-culture-driven ads, this one takes a plain and practical approach, offering what sets this laptop apart from others. With its narrator and list of stats, it sounds a lot like a car commercial.

Optical Mouse

As Born to Be Wild echoes in the background, an Apple Pro Mouse -- mysteriously missing its USB cable -- makes like a Formula One race car.

Levins: The visual poetry of this ad is exactly in keeping with the elegant look and feel of the Apple optical mouse that is as much sculpture as computer appliance. Opening to the high-energy "Get your motor running . . ." lyrics of Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," this portrayal of the mouse-as-race-car has you smiling within seconds, even as it conveys the speed and precision of its product. Simple. Brilliant. And easy to dance to.

Garfield: I am always tangling my phone cord and my mouse cord. You see this, and you say "Whoa, that mouse is wireless." The mission is accomplished fetchingly.

Wilke: This spot feels more like Mac's earlier ads, using a classic rock song with a white background and laser-focused on the product's looks as it speeds around in circles. I'm left wondering, though, why we need an optical mouse.

iMac and iTunes 3

Dig those crazy iTunes colors while punk band The Ataris express their disdain for radio through song.

Levins: Here's one that gets you thinking more about aspirin than Apple computers. To a background of ear-splitting headbanger rock, wild psychedelic images ratchet wildly across the screen. By the end, when an identifiable image of an iMac finally appears from the frenzy of noise and spastic color, a singer is screeching "Radio still sucks." But the real truth is, this ad does.

Garfield: This is fun to watch. Simple and straightforward.

Wilke: Straightforwardly similar to the optical mouse ad, and lacking the clever illustration of the "Rip. Mix. Burn." spot.


A Mac-savvy romantic surprises the folks with a DVD of his South Pacific wedding, assembled using iDVD.

Levins: Apple's latest spot is a winner in both its clear product message and its homey appeal to anyone who believes in the magic of true love and digital video editing software. It's the perfect demonstration of the tag line: "Shoot. Edit. Burn. With iDVD from Apple it's that easy." And, in the case of this spot, that's good.

Wilke: The realistic and humorous spot effectively uses the product in its story and communicates what it does that other computers don't. The nontraditional wedding depiction should connect well with Apple users, who inherently have also taken a road less traveled.

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