That (In)famous Apple Ad is a Cliché

Many paragraphs have been authored debating the merits of the Apple ad “Misunderstood“: Some believe it is a heartwarming depiction of the ways that the young and technically savvy integrate into the family unit, while others see it as justifying alienation, and where a “document the moment” attitude trumps “being in the moment“.

But no one, it seems, has commented on the fact that the entire ad relies upon a gimmick that you should identify and reject for its utterly contemptible manipulation.

Here’s a question for those who think it’s a great ad: Why is the ad emotional? Why does it, as so many claim, bring tears to their eyes?

Did someone die? Is there some family strife that the eventual reveal resolves? Is there some family trauma that needs to be worked through?

Or is it some teen taking video of a seemingly normal middle class family having a seemingly rote, happy, enjoyable Christmas get together? Even the “misunderstood” teen is happily engaged to a degree in many of the activities — you can’t even go with the assumed but entirely typical disenfranchised youth angle — the ad agency not willing to go so far as to have a loner or malcontent being the user of the product.

What is heartwarming or tear-jerking about that?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But you think it’s emotional because it has a slow, plodding, deeply emotive soundtrack. One that kicks into intense vocals the moment the entirely uninspired and predictable reveal occurs. Add the typical slow-motion that you’ve been conditioned, over many years and many examples, to associate with highly emotional moments.

It is a trope. It is cliched and is used when the content alone can’t create an actual mood. It’s usually used in “dying moments” or flashback to life scenes in terrible movies, and has been used so many times in so many ways that it’s essentially the “FEEL SAD NOW” direction board. You are being played like a cheap guitar.

If it didn’t earn an immediate take-down notice, I would upload a variant with music that the teen is more likely to actually try to foist on his family (if there is one truism of teens everywhere and over all time, it’s that they endlessly try to evangelize whatever music they happen to listen to).

That single, seemingly minor change dramatically alters the mood and impression of the ad: Teen takes video of family. Story at 11. “Misunderstood”.

I don’t intend for this post to be cynical, or dismissive of Apple (and for what it’s worth, praise or rejection of Apple ads have perilously little to do with Apple itself: These are ad agencies that invent these things, and their entire business and life is built around manipulating you), but when marketers who are trying to sell you stuff ring that Pavlovian bell, you should identify it and avoid the manipulation that goes with it.