July 30, 2012
Apple Genius Ads Not So Smart
As the world gathers together to worship at the altar of international sport, those in the geek crowd have other things to get worked up about. Apple has released three new commercials highlighting their Apple Store Geniuses in which a plucky, young employee is more than willing to help a man create an iMovie on a plane, another man get to the hospital for the birth of his child and inform yet another gentleman that he did not, in fact, purchase a Mac.
These commercials have gotten the Apple and Geek set worked up for a couple of reasons. First, Apple doesn’t often put their people at the forefront of their ads, opting instead to let the product speak for itself. Apple’s more traditional ads portray “everyday people” doing “everyday people things” with their products. One particularly moving example were the first ads for FaceTime. In the first ad, several moving tales of common, yet life changing events are depicted, all while Louis Armstrong croons “When You’re Smiling” in the background. (I dare you to watch the thing and not get choked up by it all…) Everyday people doing everyday things, and Apple is portrayed as more facilitator than accessory. Brilliant.
Ads such as the aforementioned FaceTime commercial have given Apple the reputation of always having the very best ads, a tough title to earn since most people generally ignore ads and commercials altogether. (And remember, indifference is worse than hate.)
These new ads, on the other hand, don’t have that typical Apple shine to them. They look like something that AT&T, Verizon or, and I shudder to say it, Progressive Insurance might shoot, devoid of any drama, emotion or self-awareness.
The same Apple Genius is seen in each ad, and is just a little too anxious to help in every situation. For instance, the nameless Genius (he looks like a Josh to me) is first seen standing in line for what could be a food truck. Another man taps him on the shoulder and asks him if he is, in fact, a Genius. This is easy enough for the man to figure out, as “Josh” is wearing the typical Apple Genius uniform of blue shirt and lanyard. The man then proudly proclaims to “Josh” that he had “basically” bought a Mac. With the poise and grace of a thousand Russian ballerinas, “Josh” breaks the news to this gentleman that he did not buy a Mac, and instead bought, well, something else. A nice little dig at those “something else” makers out there, and a slight return to the “I’m a Mac ads” of yore.
The next two ads aren’t as graceful.
In another ad, a pilot asks an airplane full of people if there are any Apple Geniuses on board, and of course, spry, young “Josh” — still in full uniform, mind you — pops from his seat, hand in the air, ready to solve whatever issue there may be. An attendant escorts him to another passenger who, as it just so happens, has forgotten his anniversary and plans to make it up to his wife by making an iMovie. The man is flustered and running out of time. “Josh” shows his co-passenger all the ropes of using one of the world’s easiest pieces of software in under 20 minutes, giving him valuable tips and tricks such as “drag in your wedding song” and “add the sepia effect.”
In the final ad, “Josh” receives a knock at the door very late at night. We see him reaching for his bedside light when, lo and behold! He is even sleeping in his uniform!
He opens his door to see his neighbor there, excited about the impending arrival of a new child. But does his neighbor want “Josh” to solve an actual problem? Of course not! He wants to ask “Josh” how to create some announcements and photo books for the new baby. To his credit, “Josh” seems very focused on the safety of mother and baby, offering to get the expecting couple to the hospital. How very good of Apple to advertise not only the smarts of their 20-something employees, but their compassionate sides as well.
These ads are a definite departure from anything else Apple has done, and can likely be viewed in two different ways.
These ads appear to be widening the gap betwixt customers and employees, with the customers being on the aloof and confused side, dependent on Geniuses to set them straight.
On the other hand, these ads portray Apple to be just right for anyone who can’t understand the most basic “drag and drop” style of computing, thereby narrowing the gap between “everyday users” and tech nerds. “Scared of computers? Try a Mac! And if you’re still scared, a friendly, young, white person is always nearby to soothe you and solve all your problems!” the ads appear to say.
No matter how these ads are interpreted, I know for sure they will serve to further perpetuate the willingness of the world to approach anyone wearing a Genius uniform and ask them why their iPhone’s won’t vibrate or why the alarm goes off even if the silence switch is turned on. More than anything, these new ads are further proof that there’s a new Apple in town, a different Apple from the company of previous generations.
In previous years, Apple heavily relied on a certain “cool” factor to push their products, with plenty of dramatic lighting and minimalistic themes to highlight the ease and simplicity of their ecosystem. While this approach worked for many years, these ads suggest Apple now wants to be in everyone’s homes and in everyone’s pockets.
Let’s face it, while many of us appreciate the cool, minimalistic themes of Apple’s marketing, it’s set up a bit of a stigma in some peoples’ minds. For those users who “just want to check their email,” they may see an Apple product as either “too complicated,” or even “too fancy” to serve their needs.
It’s a common and unfortunate truth: In order to reach to middle ground, and therefore a majority, you often have to aim a little lower. After all, we’re living in a world where a Justin Bieber far outsells actual, talented musicians, like a Fiona Apple. Like it or not, the average, common person will probably enjoy these ads. On the bright side, they’re nowhere near the blind buffoonery of Verizon’s Samsung Galaxy Tab ads. You know, the “Your wife will love the Tegra 2 chipset” commercial. Just terrible.