Apple's '1.24.14' Lacks Originality

Big news, tastemakers and trendspotters: I became an Apple guy last week. Lacking the patience to learn Windows 8 and vexed by the operational schizophrenia of my old machine, I finally took the plunge. That’s right: I’m typing this column on a shiny lightweight husk of Apple-sanctified godmetal. To affirm this new happenin’ personal brand image, I bought horn-rimmed frames for my glasses and stocked up on artisanal muffins. Today, an Apple laptop. Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe a shirt with buttons? I dream big.

It was a pretty exciting week for Apple as well, adding a star of my prodigious luminosity to its universe of brand adherents. Apparently there was also an anniversary of some sort involving the Macintosh. As is Apple’s wont, the company commemorated the occasion - the Mac’s 30th birthday - with “1.24.14,” another brand video shot exclusively on the newest iPhone.

And just like the last one, the clip is a mix of treacle and self-backslapping that does less to burnish the brand than it does preach to the choir, to the Apple fanboys and fangirls who’d sooner accept the possibility of intelligent life on Saturn than the notion that an Apple product might, somehow, prove less than extraordinary. Far be it from anyone besides the irascible ghost of Steve Jobs to tell Apple how to go about its business, but this whole our-stuff-connects-people-to-other-people kick the company is on should be deep-sixed, immediately and with great prejudice. Why? Because it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what makes Apple products special to their users, of what inspires that cultish brand loyalty.

Structured as a day-to-night progression (cue triple-gorgeous sunrise and sunset footage), “1.24.14” depicts the myriad ways Apple products technoenhanceify users’ otherwise drab lives. We see students pointing their iPads at the little aquarium fishies, a manly man bouncing an iMac on his lap as he careens through the jungle in his Jeep and some random person capturing for posterity a luge slalom supercross stunt on his/her iPhone. Apple tchotchkes are used to manipulate artificial limbs and benign robots alike; they serve as a resource for archaeologists deep in a dig and for fashion photographers in their downtown-loft milieu. They are instruments of music, art, manners and science. Collectively, they contribute more to our day-to-day existences than vegetables and indoor plumbing combined.

The implicit message is that if you dared attempt any of this with a Samsung device, it would animate, start to sob and stab itself in the throat with a shrimp fork. And that’s why the continued Apple-devices-as-transcultural-unifier campaign makes little sense for a company at such an advanced stage of its evolution: it doesn’t distinguish the brand or its products. You can take photos using a Samsung tablet. You can make phone calls on an LG handset. Trust me on this, you can.

Worse, boiled down to its essence - gosh, Melinda, look at all the clever ways people use their electronic gadgetry - “1.24.14” lacks originality. If there’s one thing that distinguishes Apple from just about every brand in history, tech/electronics and otherwise, it’s a keen sense of self. Apple has always presented itself as special, as above the fray. Now it wants us to celebrate our shared community? There is nothing common about a $599 iPad.

Here’s where I’d focus, if heaven forbid somebody were insane enough to entrust me with Apple’s branding: on the products. “Apple products are pretty and Apple products are easy to use.” Boom.

At this point, it’d take an awful lot to dislodge the Apple brand halo - best design, best functionality, best snob appeal - so why bother with a campaign that does little more than ensure that it’s still in place? Apple should squawk. It should thump its chest. It should smirk and wearily shake its head at pretenders to the throne, à la “can you believe this crap?” Hell, why not set the next brand video in the parking lot of your average suburban nursery school? Train the camera on the face of the kid whose parent is attempting (and failing) to complete a basic task on a non-Apple device. Capture his disgust and disappointment for posterity. Kids know where it’s at.

Or, again, maybe concentrate on the beautiful products that are super-easy to use. Nobody’s asking Apple to wage direct brand warfare on upstart tech brands, and nobody expects the company’s branding to match its products in intuitiveness and ingenuity. But a brand of Apple’s caliber is poorly served by a baldly emotional pitch that equates shooting video of a DJ with bridging the emotional and geographical chasms that divide us. The brand is bigger, and better, than that.

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5 comments about "Apple's '1.24.14' Lacks Originality".
  1. Tom Francoeur from Communispace , February 6, 2014 at 5:31 p.m.
    Just viewed the ad - I like it! I think it's a good example of "chest thumping." Apple is showing that they've led this technological revolution and their devices are the most widely used in almost every context across the globe - whether in school, at work or at play. Whether that's true or not, that's the message I get from the ad.
  2. Michael Vrh from enabledware , February 6, 2014 at 7:23 p.m.
    Maybe they should show a little girl among Syrian ruins, emailing Assad and asking him to stop.
  3. Gene Keenan from TCF , February 6, 2014 at 8:04 p.m.
    What is there to hate here? This is spot on Apple. The product has always been the hero in Apple advertisements. Now they have tied together the promise of the product with the user, thereby humanizing it and making it more aspirational. The fact that it was all shot on an iPhone and in one day makes it EXTREMELY aspirational. A great spot. Loved it. Re; Direction: The spot does show that apple products are pretty and simple to use. In fact it shows Apple products being used in numerous mission critical operations. Perhaps I saw a different spot?
  4. J S from Ideal Living Media , February 6, 2014 at 8:44 p.m.
    Well written post, with valid points. I think Apple's emotional appeals should be on a higher level than puppies + clydesdales. Say, smashing Big Brother. If you could replace the product in your commercial with any of your competitor's, and still have the same ad, you might want to rethink your commercial. If not your entire business. Here, the message seems to be: "Computing devices can be quite handy." Thanks for the update, Apple. I know. The emotionalizing of: Practical functionality + Elegance through clean design = Tricky. But not that tricky. They just need to think different.
  5. Stephen Block from Amazon Partners , February 7, 2014 at 11:31 a.m.
    I can't agree with you this time, Larry. I would echo Gene Keenan's post earlier. I'd add that when a commercial is both a product demonstration (one day, around the world, only iPhone images), absent of voice over or dialogue to tell us what we are supposed to think (opening and closing titles only to explain demonstration) and an affirmation of the human, creative spirit, I say bravo. While many have drunk the koolaid of the Apple cool, even the distanced soul can find something to like in this commercial. By the way, those iPhone shots were not "phoned in" by amateurs. This was a very slick production. While the idea itself isn't original, doing it very well makes it work for me.