Apple's Latest Advertising Hack Job Is Probably Going To Make You Think of Something Else

January 31, 2014


"Robin Williams iPad Ad Reminds Us the True Meaning of Humanity."

"Apple's Latest iPad Ad Is Probably Going to Give You Chills."

So says Huffington Post and Time, respectively.  

Personal anti-Apple bias aside, I might agree that this new spot was a stirring piece of advertising, complete with a Robin Williams monologue from the epic 1989 Dead Poets Society which contains a snippet of Walt Whitman's Oh Me! Oh Life! In fact, I would consider it an ad that seemingly manages to achieve a hard-to-pull two-fer: resonating on an emotional level while yet managing to clearly showcase the product's benefits.

might think those things...if I didn't also think the ad was a blatant rip-off. 

One of my favorite advertising campaigns from the past few years is Levi's Go Forth campaign, with its first ad airing in 2009:

Look a bit familiar? Or better posed....sound a bit familiar?  And whose magnificent written work is might ask...set to the visuals??  (I thought you would.)  Why those not only belong to Uncle Walt, but they're actually recited by Walt himself.  So if nothing else, Levi's has that over Apple.  Not that Levi's needed that edge...I mean, how inspiring can Robin Williams really be? Don't get me wrong; he was amazing in Dead Poets, but these days he's mostly a parody of himself.*

Levi's followed up this piece of magnificence with yet another, this time with Whitman's Oh Pioneers! Oh Pioneers!:


And then this gem featuring Bukowski's The Laughing Heart:



Now, it's not lost on me that there are many who don't share my enthusiasm for this campaign; those who think the spots are too artsy for artsy's sake, at the expense of good product marketing.  Indeed, I can understand that viewpoint and think it's debatable with a proper argument supporting as much.  And I fully admit that much of my fascination with these spots is on account of the artistic merits.  But I do think there's more to it than that.  

First, I think it's a smart strategic play by Levi's as a response to the high-end designer denim fad that had by then taken firm root with many, and its influence ever-growing with previously fashion-phobic men. These ads position the brand as the anti frou-frou denim.  Not pretty; rugged.  Not bourgeois; proletariat. Not for display; for life. Not European; AMERICAN motherfucker. (Suck it Euros!)

At the time, in 2009, this could have been considered a bold move, bucking a well established fashion trend still gaining momentum. But I think the concept has aged well, and today seems rather prescient as (in my view) the high end denim fad among men will soon fade, to the extent that it already hasn't.

Secondly, emotional brand building is precarious work - as is any sort of emotional transaction - with more misses than hits in my opinion.  But done its best...the intended effect is barely discernible to the target audience (which is not everyone) and hardly quantifiable. To those outside of the target audience, the effort will be largely dismissed, or even mocked. But for (some) brand managers, and (all) brand planners, successful emotional brand building is an art...the pinnacle of their trade.  

And not having any data or evidence to back it up, I'd suggest the campaign has resulted in - or contributed to - a commercial (as in business, not T.V.) success for Levi's and re-established them as an iconic - and still relevant - American Brand.

For good measure here's another ad.  I don't know where the narrative comes from...could be original...but it's yet another example showcasing the power of great storytelling: 

(Is it just me, or does that bring Hushpuppy to mind? Is it possible this could have served as the artistic inspiration/framework for Beasts of the Southern Wild??)

 *Updated 8/11/14: R.I.P. Robin.  We're sorry what we said a about you...perhaps it was a cheap shot.  Aladdin is one of our favorite movies of all time; we used to be able to recite it verbatim.  Honest to God.