The latest Apple iPad ad is completely aspirational. That's not to say it promises its products will help you become something you are not, instead the clip reprises the optimistic 60's vision that humans are powerful and can change the world.
Why 2014 won't be like 1984?
That's quite a big mission statement, but when you think about it the ad is far more in tune with the legendary 1984 spot that made the company so famous.
Any form of advertising should be treated with suspicion. Whenever you're exposed to it you should decode what you're seeing in order to understand the inherent semiotics of the message:
Apple's ad shows a host of truly remarkable human moments all being filmed on an iPad. The narration consists of words uttered by Robin Williams as John Keating in the movie, Dead Poets Society.
I like the words, and thought you might like to read them:
"We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering -- these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love -- these are what we stay alive for.
"To quote from Whitman,
"“O me, O life of the questions of these recurring. Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer: that you are here. That life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
"What will your verse be?"
What's wrong with optimism?
It may not be that obvious, but Apple's putting it all on the line here.
For some of us, Apple is the computer company to follow because it makes some of the world's most creative tools that enable creative people to do creative things. Apple has always described itself as a company that straddles the gap between technology and the liberal arts. The latest ad is cut from the same cloth, it is not about the product, it is about what creative individuals can achieve.
It would be easy to compare Apple's ad with those from competitors, and it is perhaps important to consider the innate difference between Apple's aspirational messages and the intellectual emptiness that characterizes ads from some others.
There's even a suggestion of sociological meaning : Across most of the planet the broken economy apparently means we can't "afford" the things that count (welfare, arts funding, education, health). Six years into the first great depression of the 21st Century many humans have become demoralized and hope has become hard to find. By focusing on the power of people to effect change, Apple's ad says something many would like to believe, even while our political leaders fail to deliver any hope at all. In doing so it invests its ad with cultural relevance.
These are complex semiotics to find within a technology product advertisement. Some might feel Apple's been quite brave to align itself so resolutely with the notion of human empowerment. I think the company track record enables it to align itself in that way, but it must now consistently work to ensure its corporate face matches its advertised agenda. Apple has set out its reasons to exist. Now it needs to live up to them.
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