Why Apple’s iPad Ad Fell Flat: Company Failed to Understand It Conjured Fears of ‘Tech Kind of Destroying Humanity’

Apple misread the room.

Long seen as the gold standard in marketing, the tech giant did a face-plant with its ad for the new iPad Pro tablet. The 60-second spot shows a massive hydraulic press literally crushing an array of objects — including a record player, a piano, a guitar, an old TV set, cameras, a typewriter, books, paint cans and tubes, and a classic arcade machine — and compressing them into (voilà!) the ultrathin iPad Pro. “Just imagine all the things it’ll be used to create,” Apple CEO Tim Cook cheerily posted on X along with the ad.

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The commercial was meant to be whimsical and clever. It was instantly panned. “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley,” actor Hugh Grant posted on X. “Disgusting,” a columnist for tech-news site TechCrunch wrote.

Why did Apple’s ad, created by its in-house creative team, prompt such visceral reactions? Somehow, the company failed to understand the disturbing implications of showing a soulless piece of machinery eradicating iconic symbols of creativity, says Americus Reed II, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

The ad reflected “a misunderstanding of the fear that consumers have of tech and generative AI kind of destroying humanity,” Reed says. “There’s this uncertainty about how technology and social media are taking over our lives, and that’s why there was this very powerful negative reaction.”

There also was a disconnect between the lighthearted tone of the commercial, buoyantly titled “Crush!” and featuring Sonny & Cher’s “All I Ever Need Is You,” and the existential threat many saw in its imagery.

“Tech and #AI means to destroy the arts and society in general,” Justine Bateman, who served as an adviser to SAG-AFTRA on AI issues, said on X about the ad. “This is not making things better. This is just making some people insanely wealthy, at the expense of all of us.” Filmmaker Reza Sixo Safai shared a version of the commercial running in reverse, commenting, “Hey @Apple, I fixed it for you.”

Amid the backlash, Apple issued a rare mea culpa. “Our goal is to always celebrate the myriad of ways users express themselves and bring their ideas to life through iPad,” Apple spokesperson Tor Myhren said in a statement. “We missed the mark with this video, and we’re sorry.”

To be sure, Apple has a track record of crafting commercials that raise eyebrows and defy conventional wisdom. The company, after all, once used the slogan “Think Different.”

One of the most famous Super Bowl ads in history is Apple’s “1984” commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, that urged consumers to rebel against IBM’s conformist PC hegemony and buy a Macintosh computer. But many saw the new ad as sending exactly the opposite message. James Clark, marketing director at U.K.-based venture-capital firm Molten Ventures, compared the two commercials this way: “1984: Monochrome, conformist, industrial world exploded by colorful, vibrant human. 2024: Colorful, vibrant humanity is crushed by monochrome, conformist industrial press.”

Meanwhile, in an ironic twist, “Crush!” is strikingly similar to an ad for an LG mobile phone from 2008. In the 15-year-old spot for the LG Renoir KC910, a hydraulic press crushes musical instruments, camera lenses, speakers, paint and more, with the phone popping out as the finished product. (Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment on the similarities between the ads.)

While Apple nixed plans to air the iPad Pro spot on TV, the tech giant didn’t feel sorry enough to take it down from the internet. It’s still there on Cook’s X post — viewed more than 60 million times in just over two weeks. The uproar “created a ton of additional earned media for Apple,” Wharton’s Reed notes, adding: “At the end of the day, it’s probably a net positive.”

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