A bunch of interchangeable drones sit, slack-jawed, while a domineering, bespectacled monochrome figure rants at them from above. “Our unification of thoughts is a more powerful weapon than any fleet or army on earth,” he intones. “We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause.”
And no, I don’t actually mean CEO Tim Cook at every single Apple event ever. Except, in a way, I do:
What I’m actually referring to is the classic spot that announced Apple’s Macintosh computer, one that was developed by ad agency Chiat/Day and directed by dystopian master Ridley Scott. The advertisement aired on TV only once, during the third quarter of the 1984 Super Bowl. Thirty-five years later, it’s still a hell of a commercial:
But here’s where it gets a little sci-fi, because the advertisement’s rebel has become the overlord.
Over the past several weeks, the broadcasts of live television events — the Primetime Emmys, NCAA college football, the NFL — have been inundated with ads for Apple TV+, the original TV service the tech giant launches November 1. According to industry tracker iSpot.tv, these buys have been pricey for the company; Apple spent almost $13 million on ads last week alone.
What’s the audience watching in these commercials? A bunch of folks sitting around having a good time — maybe in an L.A. Chargers jersey, if they haven’t ripped it off and thrown it across the room in frustration by the end of the first quarter — while a domineering, monochrome figure speaks to them from above. Here’s the ad for Apple TV+’s “For All Mankind”:
So what’s the message they are trying to send with live-TV buys for shows that don’t exactly scream “fun in a group setting”? (Not that the dead baby leitmotif of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Servant” isn’t a crowd-pleaser.) It’s this: Please don’t watch Jennifer Aniston at the Emmys with your group of friends, please don’t watch Reese Witherspoon while at your neighbor’s Oscars party, please watch “The Morning Show,” the Apple TV+ show advertised in this monochromatic spot with lots of Apple product placement:
Live TV, and sports in particular, is still the giant killer in the ratings. Apple knows this, and it’s why they are advertising in this space. This year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched television programming of 2019, with 103.5 million viewers; the average number of viewers per game for the 67 games of NCAA Basketball’s March Madness this year was 10.5 million. It’s the one pop culture thing we still do as a group.
And that’s not what Apple wants. Yes, my tinfoil hat is quite fashionable, thank you, but I think that by advertising on live TV, Apple is trying to compete directly with the social element that comes with it.
Is that a stretch? Let’s not forget that this is Apple, the developer of the iPhone — a personal technology that rewired how human beings physically and socially function. It’s not too much of a leap to see how — and why — they want to lure us away from the sole remaining communal activity that we do in front of the television. It means more time on their products, alone, staring downward, developing neck wrinkles. This is different from a movie studio or Netflix advertising on live TV, because Apple’s primary business is selling the medium that delivers their message.
Since the “1984” Apple ad debuted, we’ve gone from a world where shared experiences and a common point of view were viewed with suspicion, to a time when any kind of group activity with people not staring at their phones is hallowed. Envision iPhones in the hands of those drones in the original ad. Compare that to the demeanor of fans at a sports bar during the playoffs.
Slow your roll, Apple, and stop trying to take even more of our community away from us. One people, with one will, one resolve, one cause … doesn’t sound so bad after all. (Unless you’re a Raiders fan.)