Ad of the Day: Apple Borrows From Dead Poets Society in Evocative Ad for the iPad Air

'What will your verse be?'

Apple was having some trouble with words last year—stumbling a bit in the copywriting department as it struggled to breathe life into the stilted, inward-looking "Our Signature" campaign. The company finished the year strong with a lovely a holiday spot anchored by a clever script. But that ad was voiceover-free—visually and thematically poetic, but not linguistically so.

Now, the company begins 2014 with a gorgeous new commercial for the iPad Air, and it does have a poetic voiceover, although they are someone else's words. The audio is one of Robin Williams's speeches from Dead Poets Society—the one about the value of poetry and contributing a verse to "the powerful play" of life.

The spot, which premiered Sunday during NFL coverage, is remarkably diverse and global, showing the product contributing to all kind of passion pursuits in art, sports and exploration—from wind farms to storm chasers, from mountaintops to coral beds. There's a heavy emphasis on footage from Asia, which is interesting, too. Apple is thinking bigger here, and it shows.

Using the Dead Poets source material is a curious choice. You might think going with third-party copy—the film was written by Tom Schulman, who won a screenwriting Oscar for it—betrays a continuing lack of confidence in the brand's own voice, or at least the current expression of that voice. And maybe it does. But still, it's an inspired passage that fits wonderfully with the Apple brand.

"Medicine, law, business, engineering—these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life," Williams (as Professor Keating) says in the voiceover. "But poetry, beauty, romance, love—these are what we stay alive for." That message is pure Apple, going back to the "Think different" days as well as Justin Long's teasing of the spreadsheet-loving John Hodgman in the "Get a Mac" ads. Apple's business is art (and the business of art), not commerce—though the visual storytelling here cleverly shows the product contributing to both.

Beauty, poetry, passion, curiosity—these are Apple's core brand attributes, and they're powerfully communicated here. It's nice to see Apple reengaging with that, even through a surrogate, rather than navel-gazing at its own signature.

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