After Liberating Creativity in '1984,' Apple Is Crushing It—and the Internet Hates It

Apple's latest 'destructive,' 'soul-crushing' ad has fallen flat among creatives and consumers

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It was supposed to be a clever product demonstration for Apple’s latest sleek, artificial intelligence-powered iPad Pro. But the brand, typically praised for its advertising, sparked a wave of backlash for a commercial that crushes and destroys creative tools. 

In just a couple of days since its release, Apple’s “Crush” has become one of the most controversial and debated recent ads. Critics have called it “soul-crushing,” “disgusting” and “destructive.”

Even film royalty, British actor Hugh Grant, weighed in on the spot, posting on X: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

“Crush” promotes what Apple is calling its thinnest product ever, the 13-inch iPad Pro, by highlighting what users can do with the tablet’s applications, such as editing films or creating digital artwork. In the spot, developed in-house, a hydraulic press flattens objects including a piano, guitar, books, paint cans, cameras and a sculpture. When the carnage ends, the crusher lifts to reveal an iPad Pro. 

Apple has since apologized for the ad and decided not to run it on TV as originally planned.

“Our goal is to always celebrate the myriad of ways users express themselves and bring their ideas to life through iPad,” Apple marketing vice president Tor Myhren said in a statement first made to AdAge. “We missed the mark with this video, and we’re sorry.”

Apple is adept at using human stories and craft to demonstrate its products, and many of those ads have won industry awards. But at a time when many creative people are skeptical or fearful of how technology may jeopardize their professions, this one hit differently.

“Given Apple’s market and cultural domination, the semiotics of crushing beautiful and inspiring creative tools seems insensitive and gives easy ammunition to the haters,” said Ian Heartfield, co-founder and chief creative officer of agency New Commercial Arts.  

This isn’t about creative conjecture, either. Consumers were equally shocked, surprised and confused by Apple’s execution, per data from consumer sentiment business Zappi. The company gauged emotional reactions to the spot and found that it overindexed on all three feelings. The ad made just 26.7% of consumers feel happy, against a benchmark average of 36%. 

In the U.S., one in five consumers said they thought the ad portrayed content that people could find offensive. Despite this, younger people found the ad “satisfying,” likening it to a popular YouTube and TikTok series where random objects are squished under a hydraulic press. 

Rage against the machine 

Apple’s controversial ad also coincides with the 40th anniversary of one of its most celebrated commercials, “1984,” which aired during that year’s Super Bowl. 

Directed by Ridley Scott and created by Chiat/Day, the iconic spot contained a hopeful message about technology, painting a portrait of a dystopian future where computers weren’t the enemy or something to be feared. 

For many creatives, though, Apple’s “Crush” offers the antithesis: an ad where a squished trumpet and the remains of a sculpted bust serve as a visual metaphor for the threat big tech and generative AI pose to the already underfunded, underappreciated creative industries.

“On paper, it’s a cool idea. It’s also a brilliantly crafted film that, three years ago, creative people would have enjoyed,” said Alan Young, joint CCO of St. Luke’s. “But not today. Filmmaking, illustration, photography and music are all suddenly being constructed by autonomous systems, and this ad, to many, feels like a metaphor for that.”

For Jon Evans, chief client officer at ad testing platform System1, the work carries a sinister undertone, even if unintended.

“Back in 1984, Apple inspired me to crush the boring PC machine to liberate my creativity, but somehow, in 2024, we find Apple crushing the output of all that creativity and becoming the very machine they raged against,” he said. 

System 1’s data, which measures emotional response and brand impact, found that Apple’s 60-second ad stirred negative emotions for consumers. 

The creative scored just 1.9 out of 5 for its long-term market growth potential, and just 0.78 for its ability to drive short-term sales potential, against the tech category average of 1.07. 

Only 77% of people recognized it as an Apple ad. The spot did drive happiness for 25% of viewers, but it overindexed for other feelings including surprise, disgust and contempt.

All press is good press

Despite the negative reaction, at the time of writing, the work had not yet had a significant impact on Apple’s stock price, which was up 5.93% over the past five days following a host of fresh product launches designed to help it offset slumping iPhone sales.

Though controversial, the ad is unlikely to dent Apple’s reputation as one of the world’s most valuable brands. In 2022 and 2023, it topped Kantar’s BrandZ list with a valuation of $880.45 billion. 

For Tamryn Kerr, co-founder and CCO of Hijinks, the discourse around Apple’s “Crush” might actually stand in its favor down the line since it brought more attention to the product. 

“As far as Apple is concerned, everyone now knows there’s a very thin iPad to add to their Christmas list, so the ad has done its job,” she said.

ADWEEK updated this story to include Apple’s apology.

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