Ad of the Day: Apple

At a crucial time of transition, has the company simply lost its voice?

Most of Apple's marketing shows you why its products are great, rather than simply telling you they are. Now and again, though, the company steps into manifesto territory. The products recede, making way for a philosophy, a vision or a reason for being. (See "1984," "Think different" from the late '90s, or the iPad 2 campaign of 2011—when Steve Jobs, just months before his death, had TBWA make an ad that actually began, "This is what we believe.")

Apple is now in transition again, and just released its latest manifesto—the commercial below, titled "Our Signature." This one has an even starker opening line: "This is it." We see a woman grooving to music through her white earbuds on the subway. For the next 60 seconds, we see people using Apple products at school, at home and everywhere in between, as the voice continues:

"This is what matters. The experience of a product. How will it make someone feel? Will it make life better? Does it deserve to exist? We spend a lot of time on a few great things until every idea we touch enhances each life it touches. You may rarely look at it, but you'll always feel it. This is our signature. And it means everything."

Words appear on screen: "Designed by Apple in California."

The visuals are quietly grand yet intimate—nicely shot by Radical's Derek Cianfrance (who, along with a new movie, made one of my favorite ads of the year earlier this spring). But the copy feels disjointed. The word "product," which I don't recall Apple ever having used in a commercial before, is deflating—almost a faux pas. The line "Does it deserve to exist?" is odd, too—a needlessly complex thought in what's supposed to be a simpler meditation. And as for the line "You may rarely look at it, but you'll always feel it"—isn't it more true that we stare at these products relentlessly, often without feeling anything at all?

Then there's the tagline, asserting that this global company is still somehow local. It comes out of nowhere, and is jarring against the rest of the copy, which is about being universal.

An animated companion spot, also unveiled Monday (and posted below as well), has its own copy issues. It says Apple starts its design process by asking what it wants people to feel, and then "we begin to craft around our intention." That's a cold line, made even colder later on when the ad lays out the conditions under which Apple feels comfortable enough to "sign our work."

That's meant to evoke artistry, but it's the word "work" that lingers. Work. Product. What happened to fun, and technology getting out of the way? "Every idea we touch enhances each life it touches," the first spot says. But don't those words—if you can untangle them—communicate separation rather than togetherness?

"Words mean a great deal to us," Tim Cook said on Monday. Here, though, they fail to do the trick. It's clear what Apple wanted to "craft around its intention" with these ads. But you don't really feel it. They aim for poetry in the classic Apple style. But maybe it really isn't the same company after all.

Client: Apple

—Spot: "Our Signature"

Agency: TBWA\Media Arts Lab
CCO: Duncan Milner
ECD: Eric Grunbaum
GCD: Chris Ribeiro, Drew Stalker
ACD/AD: Zamir Antonio, Melinda Keough, Niraj Zaveri
ACD/CW: Kevin Butler, Brooks Jackson
AD: Joe Fotheringham
CW: Rob Goldenberg
Executive Producer: Mike Refuerzo
Agency Producers: Hank Zakroff, Mallory Gordon, Tessa Kocourek, Woody Smith

Production Co: Radical Films
Director: Derek Cianfrance
DP: Matthew Libatique

Editorial Company: Nomad Editing Company, Inc.
Editor: Jared Coller, Billy Sacdalan , Tom Muldoon

Post Co: Company 3
Lead Smoke Artist: Brian Robinson
Lead Flame Artist: Glenn Bennett
Colorist: Tom Poole

—Spot: "Intention"

Agency: TBWA\Media Arts Lab
CCO: Duncan Milner
ECD: Eric Grunbaum
GCD: Chris Ribeiro, Drew Stalker
ACD/CW: Brooks Jackson
AD: Danny Duran
CW: Zane Miller, Rob Goldenberg
Executive Producer: Mike Refuerzo
Agency Producers: Mallory Gordon, Ben Bragg, Stephanie Gocke, Tessa Kocourek

Production/Animation Co: Buck
Director: Buck