For the Rest of Us

From an advertising standpoint, I believe Apple has been on fire recently. (Disclaimer: I have been an Apple fanboy since 1985 and used to work there many years ago.) Beginning with the “What will your verse be?” iPad ad that debuted in mid-January, they’ve continued with the “You’re more powerful than you think” iPhone 5S that began airing recently.

When I first saw “Your Verse” on TV it stopped me in my tracks. Using audio of Robin Williams speaking to his class in Dead Poets Society, it features footage of people using the iPad around the world for making music, photography, tracking tornadoes, playing professional hockey, and more. The haunting melody combined with the breathtaking images and Robin Williams’ voice really struck a chord with me. It evoked a deep sense of wonder and faith in humanity. These were real people doing extraordinary things with this product. In the mere three years that iPad has been available* it has created a whole new category of devices and enabled millions of people to do ordinary and extraordinary things.

Here’s the text from the speech:

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.
Medicine, law, business, engineering. These are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life.
But poetry, beauty, romance, love. These are what we stay alive for.
To quote from Whitman: "O me, O life of the question 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. …That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse."
What will your verse be?

It ends with a challenge, raising the question for the viewer, “How will you make your dent in the universe?”

And just this week, Apple debuted a similar people-do-awesome-things-with-Apple-products video called “Powerful.” It features people using the iPhone to make music, perform art, video their kids, and more. It’s set against a youthful cover of the Pixies’ “Gigantic.” The film is an anthem much like the iPad ad that preceded it, and about how Apple products have empowered millions of people to do some pretty cool things.

(As an aside, I think “Powerful” is better executed than “Your Verse.” My issue with the first ad is that it had too many cuts in it. And the voiceover did not lend itself to a 30-second or even 60-second ad. Only the 90-second version works. Whereas all the cuts of “Powerful” are just as effective. And additionally interesting, my sources have told me that “Your Verse” was done internally at Apple. I would suspect that “Powerful” was also executed in-house.

As a second aside, this is one of the rarer moments when Apple’s campaigns are integrated, with a strong digital presence. See for yourself: Your Verse, Powerful.)

Screenshots from Apple's website

So what’s the takeaway?

These ads are not meant to convince the non-believers to buy Apple products. Instead, they’re both calls-to-arms for the Apple faithful. It’s their CRM strategy if you will. These ads are meant to inspire “the rest of us” and reinforce that we made the right choice in terms of the iOS platform and devices. These epic films depict a world made better by Apple products which makes us feel good. With Samsung and other Android devices eroding at Apple’s historic lead, this is exactly what they need.

These ads are reminiscent of Apple’s classic comeback “Think Different” campaign. Here is the text of the commercial that launched it:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

As documented in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, Apple needed to make a statement that they were still a viable company able to make world-changing products. Isaacson writes, "It was designed to celebrate not what the computers could do, but what creative people could do with the computers.” And he goes on to say that this ad wasn’t only directed at the general public, but also to Apple employees who had forgotten what Apple stood for.

And I believe rallying the base is exactly what Apple is doing again.

* iPad was announced January 27, 2010, at MacWorld in San Francisco and began shipping April 3, 2010.