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Latest iPad launch was marred by one big mistake. Here’s how Apple can fix it


Thinly-veiled destruction?

Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/ZDNET

You know how this normally goes.

Apple releases a new product. It makes a very pretty ad about the new product. It also makes sure the very pretty ad is accompanied by very pretty music.

And you think to yourself: “That’s a very pretty product. I must buy it.”  

Also: I’ve used every iPad since the original. Here’s my buying advice for the new 2024 models

Yet something quite different happened last week.

Apple launched its new iPads with a relatively low-key presentation. Indeed, it may well be — as my colleague Jada Jones mused — that the best part of the launch involved lowering the price of the 10th-generation iPad to $349.

A crushing upset

Somehow, though, Apple managed to get many, many people negatively worked up about one aspect of its launch.

Celebrated actor Hugh Grant described it like this: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

You wouldn’t think the thinnest-ever Apple device could do that, would you? Yet Grant was specifically referring to the ad Apple debuted to accompany its launch:

Here we have some beloved objects of the recent past and even present: A record player, a trumpet, speakers, and a piano.

There’s a guitar, a metronome, and even cans of paint.

They all get crushed by a large vise until — you know where this is going, right? — they become the thinnest Apple device ever, the new iPad Pro.

Perhaps you can see what Apple was getting at here. Or, rather, trying to get at. You get all this stuff crammed into a toenail-thin piece of technology.

Also: The 3 Apple products you shouldn’t buy this month (including this iPad)

Please feel happy about that.

Yet for far too many people — not just one famous actor — this created immensely negative feelings.

Adam Singer, VP of marketing at billboard measurement company AdQuick, offered this on X: “This ad is (unintentional) perfect metaphor for today’s creative dark age: compress organic instruments, joyful/imperfect machines, tangible art, our entire physical reality into a soulless, postmodern, read-only device a multi-trillion $ corporation controls what you do with.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Katie Deighton felt similarly distressed: “This ad perfectly encapsulates the insight that people think technology is killing everything we ever found joy in. And then presents that as a good thing. I haven’t seen such a visceral backlash to a spot in a long time.”

The role of TikTok?

You may be wondering how this could have happened. Clearly, it was an attempt to do something different from the norm. There’s also, however, the extremely strong likelihood that the creatives involved were invoking a TikTok trend that’s all about crushing everyday objects.

Here, for example, are some candles being hydraulically crushed. The video has 3.1 million TikTok likes. You can find plenty more of these crushingly interesting videos on TikTok.

Also: TikTok is the first social media app to implement Content Credentials. Here’s what it means for you

For ad agency creatives (disclosure: I was an ad agency executive creative director for a long time), seeking out memes and social media trends is a big temptation, if often an easy one.

Still, it would be quite odd if someone at Apple — or, indeed, its ad agency — hadn’t considered the gaping possibility of negative connotations.

It’s even odder that Apple would release an ad that makes the company come across as a technological Big Brother, crushing all before it. If there’s one company that knows about Big Brother in ads, it’s Apple.

Occasionally, though, a sort of groupthink can take over between the creatives and client executives if they think an idea is somehow “cool.”

Sorry, why is thin so good?

So, what should Apple do now? Aside from apologizing, which Apple did, the company should get this thing off YouTube and anywhere else it might be lurking.

Perhaps more importantly, though, Apple should release a new ad that might help potential buyers appreciate the benefits of thinness.

When the original MacBook Air launched, Steve Jobs displayed its slim nature by sliding it out of an envelope. It was a dramatic presentation, one that made you appreciate just how thin it was.

Also: The best lightweight laptops you can buy: Expert tested

For this new iPad, however, perhaps it’s worth dramatizing the true benefits of being thin. What are they, in fact? I’ve never thought of iPads being especially bulky, though the original iPad Pro is a touch on the heavy side.

Apple could create an ad that actively, cleverly — and even happily — shows how the thinnest-ever iPad can make you feel good, as well as offer you a step forward.

The challenge for Apple now is to rectify this slightly astonishing mistake. Come on, Cupertino, show us what the real advantages of thinness are.

And make us like them.

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