Apple Ad Roundup

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Apple's advertisements, produced by Chiat/Day, are usually among the best in the business. Visually compelling, they accomplish precisely what a good ad should: they generate interest in the product and reinforce the brand. After seeing an ad for a new iMac, Pro Mouse, or Cube, viewers know what the product is, what's cool about it, and most importantly, who makes it. Like Volkswagen, Apple tends to go with simplicity in their ads. Show the product, play some music, flash the copy at the end.

The new series of ads, however, seem to be a mixed bag. Some are perfect, but others seems a little...well, dusty - something an "innovator" definitely doesn't want to be accused of. Specifically, many of the songs featured in Apple's ads are a bit past their freshness date. On top of that, the ad campaign appears to have lost focus. Judging by the ads, aesthetics seem to be the sole consideration for buying an Apple product. Where are the references to easy Internet connectivity, iMovie, or low prices?

Although the new ad campaign is passable, let's hope Chiat/Day updates their playlist and defines the product a bit more before the next batch comes out. But until then, the following is my highly subjective ranking of the current crop, from worst to best.

Apple Pro Mouse: Oh how the counterculture's mighty have fallen. Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" has been used to pitch more buttoned-down products than anything else, with the possible exception of George Zimmer. It seems like anytime some stodgy company wants to appear less dull they trot out this tired ditty. Just last year, in fact, Steppenwolf CDs featuring the song were being sold in the U.K. with "The song from the Ford Cougar commercial" stickers pasted on the front. Will it now get yet another re-issue as "The song from the Apple Pro-Mouse commercial"? I hope not.

At least let's have something more relevant if you're going to use a Steppenwolf song, the Apple Pro Mouse is a "Magic Carpet Ride," but I'd prefer accurate tracking to something that's "Born to Be Wild." And while we're at it, the Fatboy Slim remix of "Magic Carpet Ride" would have been absolutely perfect, appealing to ye olde hippies and pacifier-sucking ravers alike. Or perhaps they should have used that other classic Steppenwolf song that seems to have been written especially with commercial pitches in mind, "Pusher."

The G4 Cube: Thank God Chiat/Day didn't use "Hip to be Square" -- that's about the best thing I can say about this commercial. It opens with one of rock 'n' roll's most familiar guitar riffs, Jimi Hendrix' "Purple Haze." Therein lies the problem. To Mr. Jobs and other boomers, this song probably still carries some sort of rebellious cachet. But for me -- and I think I speak for most people my age who have been hearing this song trotted out at every boomer nostalgia shtick-fest since birth -- it just calls forth images of aging hipsters who really should be wearing shirts, but aren't, and who are rocking out one last time before that first coronary kicks in.

Steve: this song is about as hip as Benny Goodman was when you were in high school. Pick another Hendrix song, any song will do better. "Manic Depression" would have been a good choice, especially considering the uproar over the faint lines that have appeared in the Cube's casing. His electrifying version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" would have been even better. But the best thing would have been to go with another theme altogether, something that emphasizes the Cube's small size and processing ability. For such a cool product, this is a lousy commercial.

Snow iMac: This commercial, which features "In the White Room," has the same problems as the two above. What about "White Rabbit" or Liz Phair's "White Chocolate Space Egg" (the perfect choice, in my opinion, as it emphasizes that this is a hip, new, self-contained device)? What about... "Cocaine"? Well, OK, "Cocaine" probably would have generated some flak. But really, Eric Clapton has quite an extensive catalog to choose from -- why go with one of his most overplayed songs? Still, it works acceptably well. It conveys the message, and unlike the previous two dinosaur rock songs, it doesn't quite annoy. This commercial, which for all practical purposes steals's branding, just confuses me. I think that's "Hit the Road Jack" playing in the background as Mac users give up their e-mail addresses to the camera for all the world to spam. I really don't get what point this ad is trying to make. Perhaps it's that Mac users are a delusional bunch.

Ruby iMac: "Ruby Baby," was a great choice. Although the Bjork version would also have been acceptable, the Dion and the Belmonts classic was definitely the way to go. This ad is solid all the way around with one exception: aside from the fact that it's red, I'm not sure what's cool about this computer. Price? Easy Internet connectivity? iMovie? Why talk about those substantial things that might influence someone to make a purchase when you've got a red computer...?

Indigo iMac: "Blue Suede Shoes," the Carl Perkins classic as sung by Elvis is a great example of an old song that still works well. It will remind the older crowd of a time when rock 'n' roll was still rebellious, and rockabilly's resurgence over the last decade keeps it fresh and tasty for the kids. Plus the attitude and energy of the song give Indigo a "tough guy in a leather jacket" feel. In short, the ad presents Indigo as a timeless classic of rebellion, reinforcing the "Think Different" campaign as the "go cat go" leaves viewers with an impression of speed and ease of use.

Sage iMac: "It's Not Easy Being Green" was a perfect choice. Irony, post-irony, and GenX-er nostalgia all rolled into one happy package. Everyone from teens to boomers can identify with this one. Kermit's lament and simultaneous celebration of being different embodies the Mac experience. In fact, it makes me want to go out and spend my hard-earned money on a new iMac. Sage is Apple's best commercial since "1984."

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