Apple Doesn't Fall Far From Advertising Tree In "Misunderstood"

I've got a much younger relative who is a - how can I phrase this with the elegance for which this column is known? - sullen little sh*t. To be in his presence is to have every fear about the generation straddling Generation Y and the Generation After Generation Y confirmed. He rarely speaks. He makes eye contact incidentally, if at all. And, of course, he is physically and psychically tethered to his phone. There are times he wanders into the room and nobody realizes he's there for a solid 45 minutes. Were it not for the soft chirp that heralds a just-arrived text, he might as well be a un-bulbed lighting fixture, or a ghost.

It's precisely this scenario, currently playing out in musty parlors across this great country of ours, that informs Apple's most recent overly-pleased-with-self spot, "Misunderstood." In it, a moon-faced teen who looks like Paul Dano's little brother can't be bothered to celebrate the holidays with his family. As relatives young and old frolic in the snow, exchange pleasantries and otherwise bask in their lack of dysfunction, the teen pecks away at his phone. He phone-pecks his way through a quick session at the local ice-skating rink and contributes little to the construction of the non-gender-specific snowperson, beyond handing over its carrot proboscis.

While he doesn't outright shun his family, Phoneboy remains at a cool distance. For heck's sake, Grandpa receives only the most half-hearted of hugs. Are you kidding me? It's Grandpa! He's the family patriarch! He has the graying temples that connote wisdom and hard-won respect! Shame on you, Junior.

But wait - the joke's on us and our cruel, hurtful stereotypes of today's techno-riffic teens. The next morning, as the be-pajama'd family assembles around the tree to open their Christmas booty, Phoneboy redeems himself via the non-festival debut of his "Harris Family Holiday" short film. See, all along he'd been stealthily filming the mirth and wonder in his midst. I guess he edited all 7,200 minutes of footage while everyone else was sleeping? Teenagers, man.

In general, Apple comes across far less well when it isn't wagging an awesome new supergizmo in our faces. It happened with recent ads in which the brand attempted to imbue the experiences of taking photos and making phone calls with great emotional and sociological import, and it happens again here. If the secret wasn't already out, it is now: when Apple doesn't have anything new and cool to show off, it descends into lowest-common-denominator mawkishness just as fast as your average mall jeweler does.

And even if it didn't, Apple's execution in "Misunderstood" is uncommonly, well, common. First and foremost, the clip doesn't give any real indication that the kid is misunderstood. Rather, he's indulged and accepted by his family: "You want to play with your cute little phone? Fine, we'll be over here enjoying each other and our upper-middle-class trappings." Similarly, the images it parades one after the next - snowballs, snow angels, stealth busses, bright-eyed schoolkids, button-nosed infants - have been beaten into the ground during the last two months. Apple waited until mid-December for this?

Even as Apple indulges these stereotypes, it still seems to believe it's presenting something novel. But really: A mini-movie filmed and edited entirely using Apple's suite of products isn't new and/or mind-boggling in the way that the company's usual commercial demonstrations are. Even I can play video ethnographer using my down-brand smartphone. I don't even require a precious, twinkly soundtrack.

We're supposed to be dazzled by the activities depicted in the clip because everything Apple does is dazzling, and we're supposed to feel joy and wonder because that's what Apple is telling us to feel. But if the scene and everything/everyone in it don't rise above the level of cliché, and the product features don't elicit the usual awed gasps, even the ethereal Apple brand aura isn't enough to elevate this clip from the realm of easy pap. In "Misunderstood," the emperor has no clothes.


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5 comments about "Apple Doesn't Fall Far From Advertising Tree In "Misunderstood"".
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  1. Michael Kaplan from Blue Sky Creative, December 19, 2013 at 2:39 p.m.

    One thing you can say about this Apple commercial: it's getting people talking. In which case, it's a successful ad!

    That said, I completely disagree with your analysis of the ad's content. As a grown adult who nonetheless is wedded to my cell phone, I can relate to all the reactions the teen gets. He isn't being "indulged": at best he's ignored, but at least several times, adults give him a dirty look or throw something at him to get his attention. At while any smartphone can shoot video, Apple's Airplay feature is shown off brilliantly. "Look ma, no wires!"

    As for the other recent Apple ads, I thought the photo ad -- which points out more photos are taken with an iPhone than any other camera -- was brilliant in its subtlety. To each our own, I guess.

  2. David Carlick from Carlick, December 19, 2013 at 6:14 p.m.

    I was immediately caught by the commercial -- Apple depicting the horrible detachment that it has wrought on kids with their digital products. How could they possibly put such a spotlight on the social disaster they created? So I was captivated and a little relieved at the happy ending and a happy return to Apple's core as a creative product for creative ideas and projects. Really, a wonderful story and a pretty interesting product demo (my personal weakness) thrown in.

  3. Jeff Foster from Fostermedia, December 19, 2013 at 9:07 p.m.

    I loved the ad, and I'm gen x! Very well played as David said. The technology is a distraction but the point is the community around technology. You can bet even grandpa wants to play with a phone that can do all that in so little time. I think its interesting how the TV is the point of this Ad ultimately. Perhaps a certain product is on the way that will draw families a little bit closer.

  4. Tony Nino from PADV Pasadena Advertising, December 19, 2013 at 9:18 p.m.

    I agree with both of the previous comments, but.. I was frankly more amazed that the kid somehow miraculously captured 7200 minutes of footage on his iPhone. For one, that's a lot of gigabytes. He must have deleted all his music, his photo gallery, his apps and all his messages. That’s dedication. But even if he had a fully loaded Epic-X Mysterium-X Pro, he still had to shoot 7200 minutes of footage. That’s 120 hours! Five days. I hope he got a potty break. And then he still had to edit.
    Melanie Shreffler (A Tale of Two Ads) thought the ad was brilliant, and you thought it sucked. I get it. You don't agree. The "truth" might lie somewhere in between. But I think your over reliance on hyperbole indicates an agenda that blinded you to the story, the humor and the values that the ad conveyed. I’d give it at least a golf clap.

  5. Barbara Lippert from, January 2, 2014 at 12:30 a.m.

    I agree with Larry-- I wasn't as worshipful as most people were. I thought it only proved that phones are disconnecting us and making us zombies. And it's too long!

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