Wooden desk with a cup of cappuccino, a laptop keyboard, and a notepad with pen showing in the righthand corner.

Anger at Apple’s iPad Ad? It’s the Context.

At first (and second) glance, Apple’s recent ad for the iPad Pro isn’t awful. The ad features a number of objects—paint, instruments, cameras, gaming devices—all piled onto a giant hydraulic press. The pressing plate then rides down and squashes the objects flat. The piano explodes, the paint splatters, and the camera lenses shatter. The plate then lifts to reveal Apple’s thinnest iPad Pro ever.

The message is that many creative tools have been “pressed” into the new iPad. But that’s not how many creatives interpreted the ad. What they saw was wanton destruction of their cultural heritage. A blatant disregard for professional knowledge. A replacement of specialized skill.

Talk about Tuned Out

If this ad had aired just two or three years ago, it wouldn’t have merited more than a shrug. (From an advertising perspective, it’s pretty mediocre.) But this isn’t two or three years ago. This is the age of AI. Social media feeds are flooded with anecdotes, questions, and discussions regarding AI’s affect on our livelihoods. And not just our livelihoods, but also what it means to think, create art, and be human.

For example:

  • Are you a real artist if you type a bunch of words into a text box and receive an image you pictured in your mind? An image pieced together by things other artists created?
  • Since art is a form of human expression, can anything produced by a machine even be called art?
  • Are commercial interests exerting too much control over what gets created and how? Is now the time to push back?
  • Can artists protect their work when AI companies (*cough, OpenAI, cough*) are indiscriminately ripping it from the web to train their models?

This is the cultural environment in which Apple chose to assemble a mountain of treasured creative tools and crush them into dust.

I get it. Those hydraulic crushing videos on YouTube snag tons of views. But someone on the advertising team should have been culturally aware enough to read a room. Or maybe just LinkedIn, for starters. These conversations are happening everywhere.

They’re not Alone

While we’re at it, let’s talk about another crushing advertisement: Coca-Cola. They crushed their logo to encourage customers to recycle their bottles and cans. Agency bigwigs raved about how “brave” it was for a brand to distort their logo like that.

Apple’s iPad ad is likewise craven. It’s not so much the content but the context that makes it so. Artists are expressing genuine concern (and, in some cases, alarm) at the rate it seems technology seeks to usurp our talents while companies and investors rake in the profits.

That’s not the time to crush paint cans and pianos. That’s the time to engage with empathy.  

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