Apple was right. The timing was wrong: Why did people ‘crush’ the iPad ad?

By Melchonian Lab

One of the worst things that may happen to the marketing team is posting a statement right after the release of the promo ad, saying “We missed the mark with this video, and we’re sorry.” This may be a crushing experience, especially for companies like Apple, famous for being a golden standard of creative marketing campaigns that, by the way, include the recent iPad Pro ad.

The official commercial of the iPad Pro.

The giant hydraulic press is crushing several creative tools – books, musical instruments, and paint. We highlighted the main keywords because they explain people’s frustration about the ad and allow us to explain how audiences interact with the messaging brands create. The crushing part is very confusing when some people explain that it looked aggressive and caused negative reactions. As one can observe, the media likes contradicting this “failed” ad with the one Apple presented in 1983 – the Macintosh commercial called “1984”. In the ad, the woman athlete is crushing the big screen, as a sign of the end of the tech monopoly IBM had back then. Yet no one criticized the “violence”.

Another example that I found belongs to a small manufacturer in the U.S. – Blendtec, which was struggling with low sales in the early 2000s, and didn’t have a popular brand image either until the creative minds in the company decided to… crush!

One of the commercial series of Blendtec where they blend an iPad.

The marketing campaign, called “Will it blend?”, was a collection of several episodes where the founder of Blendtec was trying to literally blend different valuable items, like phones, car keys, and even an iPad. They wanted to build a reputation for a truly quality product, which they did successfully and never apologized for destroying and wasting various items. And they shouldn’t because the apology is the limit of creativity. Similar cases pushed us to find other reasons behind the scrutiny Apple faced, so I want to zoom in on the following two concepts of communication – message and symbol.

The reality of symbols: Message failed

Actor Hugh Grant has posted the ad, commenting that it represents the destruction of the human experience. This was one of the most popular opinions internet users had, seeing a threat to human values, represented by books, musical instruments, and paint, which are the symbols.

American philosopher Susanne K. Langer has very interesting explanations about symbols in communication, and in her “Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art”, she describes them as the “vehicle of conception”. In other words, it’s not the crushing of items that couldn’t communicate well with the audience, but the fear of musicians having their works copied by the AI, the fear of painters losing their copyrights over their artwork, and the fear of publishers and writers from seeing the pieces of their minds plagiarized.

In “Theories of Information, Communication and Knowledge”, talking about the semantic determination of the message, W. Nöth writes: “It is not the sender who decides whether the message is right or wrong, credible or incredible, etc. It is the reality represented by the sign [message] that does so.” The first question we need to ask is – what was the reality in which Apple released its iPad commercial?

Fearing and Suing with the hope of a superhero

Since the introduction of generative AI models, different circles of society have been discussing the potential threat those models may cause to their jobs and artworks. At the end of 2023, one of the few globally leading news organizations, The New York Times, sued OpenAI and Microsoft over “unauthorized use of published work to train artificial intelligence technologies”.

In January of 2024, 1600 artists including Bridget Riley, Damien Hirst, and Rachel Whiteread raised concern against Midjourney, an image-generating AI platform, claiming that their artworks have been used to train this and other AI models and that they “shouldn’t just let this wash over us”.

In February, writers and publishers in Europe welcomed the determination of legislative institutions to reject the proposed weakening of transparency obligations for AI providers. The main demand was to make sure that Authors and publishers were “able to profit economically from the use of their works”.

World-famous celebrities in the music industry like Billy Eilish, Katy Perry, and others spoke against “enormous AI threats, stating that AI can change not only the face of creative industries but also the U.S. economy entirely.

This was the reality when Apple streamed its iPad commercial in May. In times of fear and crisis, people are looking for superheroes who would come and save them and their symbols, so to speak. When the same Apple released its “1984” ad, it unleashed a campaign against the sole authority of IBM, opening the doors of competition in the technology world. This is how the reality in 1983 decoded the message, and that’s why in 2024, the only “mark” Apple had missed, was the social context of the reality.