A few days ago, I was watching football when an ad came on that seemed both familiar and foreign. The music was familiar. The devices were familiar. And then came the voice.
"We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute…"
I knew I had heard both that voice and those words before. In fact, I knew I had heard that voice reading those words before.
"We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion."
Then it hit me: Robin Williams. This must be some sort of trailer for a new film. This looks like a movie trailer. And again, the music is so familiar. And Hollywood loves to use the same songs in trailers over and over again.
I stopped listening to Williams and focused on the music. Where had I heard that before? And then that hit me: Terrence Malick’s 2013 film, To The Wonder.1 The shots and cinematography even look a bit like the trailer for that film, which also relies on a voice-over.
But why do these devices keep showing up? And why is Williams now quoting Whitman?
'O me, O life of the questions of these recurring. Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here — that life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.'
O yes. Now I remember. This is not a new movie, this is from Peter Weir’s 1989 film Dead Poets Society. But this is clearly not a trailer for that film, it’s something very different. Those devices.
It is only then, at the very end of the spot, that I realize this is an Apple commercial. Sure enough, an Apple logo appears, as do the words “iPad Air”.
Critics may say this ambiguity makes for a poor and ineffective advertisement. To the contrary, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the ad these past few days. It sticks in your head because it’s both familiar and foreign. Where so much advertising falls flat, it resonates.
It’s cinematic in an age where advertising has stepped a bit too far on the wrong side of literal and clever. It’s not about specs and stats. It’s not about the devices at all. It’s about how you can use the devices. How these devices are both approachable and aspirational. And oddly, just as with the best cinema, the feeling you’re left with is one of nostalgia.
This ad is art.
Apple thought enough of the spot to put it front and center on its homepage. I suspect we’ll see many more ads like it from competitors in the coming months. And those ads will fail because they will fail to see the reason for doing such an ad. They’ll be simply copying, not contributing, a verse.
It all comes back around.