The new iPad ad essentially flips AI-weary creatives the bird

The new iPad ad essentially flips AI-weary creatives the bird
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Is it true that all press is good press, or is Apple’s latest iPad ad — involving a different kind of press — a poorly timed misstep that could actually cost Apple the business of AI-weary creatives? 

Because right now, creatives are expressing their distaste at the sight of their tools being cheerfully destroyed en masse in a hydraulic press to make way for a shiny new tablet. It may just be the exact wrong message at the exact wrong time.

It’s nothing new that some ads are irksome, and we all know that a hated ad isn’t necessarily an ineffective one. When I was 12, there were these burger ads featuring people noisily mushing burgers into their hideous, up-close mouths, and sucking on their fingers like animals. The whole thing made me want to claw my eyes out. (They actually made a lot of people feel this way, I later learned.) But as my dad explained to me at the time, “The point is, they got your attention.” 

I heard the underlying message loud and clear: Companies don’t have to pretend they respect their customers; they just have to get them to part with their money. 

It’s entirely possible that Apple will get customers to do just that. Yesterday, my colleague Chris Taylor pointed out that the top-of-the-line new iPad with all the peripherals adds up to a $3,000 package of gadgets, and that — sticker shock or no — it’s tempting to fork it over for something this cool. But he also noted something that’s key to that value proposition for him: The new iPad taps into his fantasies of personal creativity. “Apple knows our income is always a little more disposable if it can appeal to our wannabe genius,” he wrote. 

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With that in mind, I urge you to watch the “Crush” ad one more time, and really contemplate what it’s showing you:  

All that stuff — the paint, the piano, the trumpet, the arcade machine, the illustrator’s table — do you feel any hostility toward it? Do you want to see it destroyed and symbolically turned into an Apple device? Does it give you any satisfaction to see record players annihilated, and cameras all squished, and crumbly, and exploding?

And to switch things around a bit, take a look at your nearest Apple device and think about the last time you fantasized about that thing getting crushed. Was it yesterday? Maybe it was five minutes ago. In any case, you probably like it less than you like, say, your guitar.

Almost exactly 40 years ago, Apple released its most famous ad, “1984,” in which a monochrome society of shambling drones is under the spell of some kind of computerized dictator. The prisoners of this terrible society are then liberated from their monotony by a hammer-throwing savior representing the Macintosh computer, and a glorious, colorful future is unleashed. 

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Fast forward 40 years, and Apple is the most valuable company in the world, releasing a commercial in which symbols of creativity, color, joy, human passion, and playfulness are piled into the center of a grey concrete void, and crushed by an industrial machine until they become a little Apple-branded rectangle. 

The message is not playing well.

And the timing couldn’t be worse. Apple is, at long last, pleasing Wall Street by pivoting to AI — even going so far as to ramp up development of a new AI cloud infrastructure project made of its own proprietary chips. As Apple CEO Tim Cook said on an earnings call last week, Apple “believe[s] in the transformative power and promise of AI, and we believe we have advantages that will differentiate us in this new era.” 

To that end, yesterday’s iPad event contained more usage of the term “AI” than any Apple product presentation in recent memory. AI enhancements are suddenly being injected into Apple creative tools like Photomator, with its ML Enhance tool, and a new Isolate Subjects option in Final Cut Pro. 

No two ways about it: Apple is now an AI company. And with this ad, Apple seems to be blaring that message from a loudspeaker, perhaps a little more loudly than it even intended. Members of the public seeing “Crush” seem to be slowly coming to terms with that eerie new reality. 

The same year Apple released its “1984” ad, a little movie called The Terminator debuted, and the folks at Apple may want to take another look at it — or at least (spoiler alert) its final moments. At its core, The Terminator is a love story about the essential qualities of humanity prevailing over artificial intelligence. Was it the concept of love that James Cameron put in a hydraulic press at the finale? Was it creativity? Joy? Passion? No. The movie spoke to humanity’s id, because the cathartic ending of The Terminator is the moment when the hideous artificially intelligent machine got crushed.

That’s the act of creative destruction people will always want to see, and if you’re a technology company right now, it’s probably a good idea to keep that in mind.

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