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Opinionista

Apple misses the mark, but hits a critical techlash nerve with their ‘crush’ ad

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Jon Cherry is a business strategist and publisher whose focus is innovation and building better brands.

If this ad were to have been presented in an advertising school, the student would have been immediately headhunted by a leading agency and given a corner office with a dedicated parking bay. So why the backlash?

This past week the internet was bristling with anger and intense hatred for Apple.

In a new commercial for the latest iPad, aptly titled “Crush!”, the Apple marketing machine graphically illustrated just what their new slim tablet is capable of doing, obliterating countless old and clunky artefacts of creativity.

Accompanied by the 1990 song by Sonny and Cher “All I Need is You”, the ad takes us on a quick trip down a nostalgic memory lane.

The camera pans over an old record player, a ticking metronome, an arcade game, a chalkboard, an upright piano, tins of paint, a handsome-looking trumpet — all incredibly neatly positioned in a giant industrial press that slowly clamps down on all of it in a rather spectacular manner.

Everything then gets flattened and crushed into oblivion.

Guitars explode, glass shatters everywhere, smoke billows and paint squirts out of the clamped jaws of the press. It’s utter destruction, and then the massive steel plates open once again to reveal the new ultra-thin and powerful Apple iPad Pro.

As far as pure advertising goes, the ad is incredibly impactful and does an excellent job of communicating the benefits of the new Apple product. It’s beautifully shot, the grading is wonderfully rich and cinematic, the choice of the Sonny and Cher song gives the commercial a fun tone without the flagrant destruction coming across as too aggressive.

If this ad were to have been presented in an advertising school, the student would have been immediately headhunted by a leading agency and given a corner office with a dedicated parking bay.

Public outcry

Apple fans, as well as other people with opinions, absolutely hated it and made their strong feelings repeatedly known.

Not since Bud Light completely alienated the entire length-and-breadth of the conservative bible belt in the US by misjudging the selection of a transgender influencer has the ad world seen such a swift rebuke.

In amongst a riot of online blathering, Elizabeth Hurley’s ex, Hugh Grant, publicly lashed out at the Apple CEO, Tim Cook, on social media. He labelled the ad as an example of “the destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley”. This is some strong fighting talk from a man who has built his entire persona on personifying “floppy”.

Justine Bateman, who played Mallory Keaton in the 1980s hit sitcom Family Ties (now a prolific filmmaker), proclaimed that the ad was a metaphor for how technology is literally “crushing the arts”.

She linked her critical remark to a 2017 New York Times op-ed piece that explores how historically authoritarian regimes actively throttle the freedom of society to create art in their destructive campaigns for the control of the human spirit. She figuratively linked the Apple iPad ad to the work of the Third Reich, which is a tad hyperbolic.

It was pointed out by many other commentators that the iPad ad was ironically in direct contrast to the much-loved 1984 commercial that was directed by Ridley Scott, which basically premises Apple’s entire brand philosophy on being “anti-tech dystopian” by nature. People love the Apple brand precisely because it epitomises creativity and holding an alternative perspective in a world of conformity.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Why are so many brilliant Big Tech pioneers such arseholes?

Forty years later, and here’s Apple crushing trumpets and old video games that nobody has played since 1984.. how dare they!?

To their credit, Apple acknowledged the objection and chose to withdraw their active support of the ad and issued an apology: “Our goal is to always celebrate the myriad of ways users express themselves and bring their ideas to life through iPad. We missed the mark with this video, and we’re sorry.”

Beyond the salacious headlines though, what’s going on here? Why is this ad — that’s almost an exact creative replica of a 2009 LG ad for a camera phone — causing so much hurt right now?

‘Techlash’

In Apple’s defence, the tone of this ad is no different from how Steve Jobs presented the benefits of the first iPod in 2001. Back then, Jobs whipped out the sleek MP3 player from his pocket and promised that it would put “a thousand songs in your pocket”. No need to own a clunky record player or pay the artist you love for a full album of tracks. The power had dramatically shifted to the music consumer and we all rejoiced.

What’s changed?

What immediately springs to mind is that this is another example of what is known as “techlash” — an intensely negative reaction to advances in modern technology and the arrogant behaviour of big technology companies.

The term originates from the early 2000s and has become more widespread in lockstep with the advancement of predatory behaviour in the realm of finance and a weakening of the effectiveness of policy regulations to keep the whole thing from spinning out of control.

For a long time, we have passively and intellectually felt that these systems have become too powerful for their own good (and ours), but now they are coming for our jobs and are taking aim at the very heart of what makes us human.

This ad serves as an elegant metaphor for how artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and corporate greed are converging into the perfect crushing machine of nostalgia. In its place, we’re handed a thin, sterile slab of cold metal, plastic and glass and are being told to shut the hell up and swallow it.

Artificial intelligence will undoubtedly have a profound influence on most people’s jobs in the years to come. Denying, fighting this, or trying to find reasons as to why your profession is maybe safe from its grasp is not only delusional — it could also be detrimental.

By choosing to be a so-called “AI-doomer” you deny yourself the opportunity to explore this new tool and see where you might be able to leverage its incredible power. Society’s emotional reaction to this commercial is perhaps an indication that collectively we are not prepared for what is going on all around us right now.

When a brand we love all of a sudden shows us a shadow side that threatens the very essence of who we narrowly think we are — it’s frightening.

The marketers may have backtracked this time, but the giant wheels of progress continue to spin faster and faster. Apple may be licking their wounds from the swift backlash they got from this announcement, but they may also have done all of us a favour by highlighting just how ill-equipped we are to welcome in this new age of advancement.

The future is certainly not what it used to be, but it is now up to us to consciously release our grip on the known past and now reimagine what we might be able to create in it. DM

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