Lately I've found that I can't leave my TV on for more than a few minutes without seeing the latest advertising fare from Apple Computers. The most recent ad is all about the world of the iPad, or the lifestyle of the iPad, or something. I can't really follow it, because, much like the levees on the industrial canal at the Ninth Ward, my tolerance for Apple's particular brand of advertising pretension was long ago breachedby a deluge of dancing silhouettes and endless waves of self-conscious music by the likes of that crap band Jet.
And so I can't really tell you anything about the iPad ad in particular, except that it includes a self-assured voice over (maybe Peter Coyote, or another similarly crafty-named actor), rapid fire edits of people with their heads cropped out holding the iPad close to their groin regions, and colorful, catalog-like tableaux of Vespa scooters, area rugs and cutesy sneakers.
That said, there is one element of Apple's marketing magic that I think I understand. After exhaustive research (which is to say "watching too much television"), I have come to believe that the explosive success of all the "i" gadgets is due to Apple's deft exploitation of the fact that people want to act like idiots. For some reason Apple has a lot of fans who are so, well, fanatical about new products with a cute vowel affixed to the front of their name that they will pay upwards of $400 for the privilege of road-testing anything that Steve Jobs holds up in front of a crowd in an auditorium.
There's a simple equation at work here: Excitement turns people into idiots; idiots buy stuff. But what is the cause of excitement? Put simply, it's the opportunity to incur the envy of strangers at the bus stop by manipulating a plastic-shelled device that will be obsolete inside of 6 months. Steve Jobs knows this. He also knows that these ostensibly enviable people are too dumb/excited to realize that in the lexicon of the Apple world, “1st Generation” means “the one that sucked.”
So why are so many people susceptable to the kind of bedazzlement that causes them to make rash purchases?
One theory (meaning something I just made up) suggests that a lot of people developed a bad habit that they can’t shake: they failed to learn their lesson after repeatedly waiting in line for 27 hours to see the opening of each of the final three Star Wars movies, telling themselves each time, “this one will be good!”
(photo from Life.com)
and now, still vaguely unfulfilled, they carry with them an insatiable urge to sleep on a sidewalk and spend an obscene amount on an over-hyped but entirely unproven piece of technological wonderment. Ostensible wonderment, anyway.
(There's a Samuel Beckett joke hiding around here somewhere...)
(pic from nytimes.com)
Now, it’s conceivable that I’m a little bit cynical about all this, so I should consider the possibility that these wee devices are actually innovative and impressive. But even so I suspect that the unwashed, pavement-reposing, toy X-Wing Fighter-collecting nerds, among others, are willfully in thrall of the shameless self-aggrandizement produced by the Apple marketing juggernaut.
I visited the iPad page on Apple's website to discern more about this "magical and revolutionary" iThingy. There was some factual information, but mostly I found outlandish suggestions masquerading as unassailable truths—such as might easily persuade the eagerest among us.
Expansive! So, basically it’s… bigger than an iPhone. Mind you, I have been waiting for new ways to touch my email!
Anyway, now that you’ve piqued my interest, just how expansive is this thing?
10 inches, huh? Say, you know what else is perfect for watching HD movies? My 47-inch television.
And while we’re on the subject, you know what’s NOT perfect for watching HD movies? The subway, an airplane, the line at the Post Office, a canoe, and pretty much ANY crowded or moving location where I might find myself trying to kill time by watching a movie on a screen smaller than a box of Wheat Chex.
More extraordinary than looking at photos on a monitor? I mean, I’ve seen a computer screen before. Who is this ad for? People fresh off a bus from 1940?
Again, I’m going to differ on this one. I think the best way to experience the web is on a 90 inch wall mounted flat screen, viewed from the comfort of my jungle room’s new hot tub as I imbibe some kind of unpronounceable single malt Scotch while Tour de France podium girls attend to my every need, including a few that they’ve just made me aware of.
I'm not saying Apple's handheld devices are no good. The 'pod and the 'phone are obviously something of a big deal. And maybe this will be too, and that's fine. It's just that I can't stand the ads.
I don't think all ads are terrible. I understand that advertising pays for pretty much everything that our taxes don't. You have a brand, and you want me to know about it, and you'd like me to buy it? Well Humpty Dumpty, maybe I will. And if your ad makes me laugh, we could really be on to something! But when you start to tell me what to think about your crappy product, and you think I won't notice your trickery, then frankly you are an asshole treating me like an imbecile. Which maybe I am, but that's no excuse. Stupid is as stupid does, but so is asshole.
Remember the "1984" Apple Computer commercial? The one with the woman smashing the giant, projected face of Orwellian personal computer oppression?
A quarter century later Apple is still trying to convince consumers of the world that every gadget they produce is a revolution. Only now they're doing it without any imagination—they're not conjuring up an evocative image of revolution, like a woman with feathered blonde hair and a sledge hammer; they're just saying words like "revolution" and "magical" and banging them into your head Frank Luntz-style. Basically what the woman with the high-waisted orange shorts did to the status quo with her sledge hammer—that's what Apple is now doing to you with their advertising.
To that end, Apple is employing the clever tactic of deliberately confusing "revolution" and "novelty." But even so, the novelty of people flicking photos around on a touch screen is by now about as fresh as the waters of the Gulf Coast (which BP is currently revolutionizing with their innovative "sludge-hammer" technology).
By this point you've probably deduced that I'm a total imbecile for taking Apple's clearly superficial 'revolution' marketing trope so literally. As I've said before, I have a tendency to obsess about trivial things. Having just now stepped away from all of this long enough to make a rejuvenating snack (my favorite: toast with a thick spread of microwaved Circus Peanuts), I see the folly of my hypercritical ways. A little perspective reveals to me that the 'revolution' silliness is just one weapon from Apple's advertising arsenal. Their overall campaign is not all that complicated: ultimately the overarching stroke of marketing genius is that Apple's ads are a potent mix of visually striking and deliberately obnoxiousthe dancing-douchebag iPod ads, the smarmy "I'm a Mac" spots. The fact that people mock the ads is, of course, proof of their effectiveness. So by letting them get my dander up, I'm just as much a tool as either the simps who fall under Apple's spell and pay full price for the latest prototype, or the snarks who post iPod ad parodies online, thereby contributing to the ubiquity of Apple's marketing presence.
The bottom line is that the little guy is no match for the likes of perhaps soon-to-be wordlwide market-share dominators Apple Computer. Unless I can find a way to produce a new kind of revolutionary metaphorical sledge hammer, I will be beaten down like the rest of the masses. Possibly by this guy.