10/05/2024 • Marketing

What the iPad Pro Advert Teaches Us About Marketing

Apple’s new iPad advert has sparked a robust response from creatives who value traditional tools and techniques.

You’ve probably seen it by now. But if not, here’s the ad which has caused so much annoyance, particularly amongst designers, artists and creators of things:

Marketing is Hard

As the well-worn saying goes, “sell benefits, not features”. Apple are the masters at selling benefits. Sure, they want you to know how thin their new iPad is, but that’s secondary to what it’s going to do for you. Their new device will revolutionise your life.

But how do you go about condensing a concept – even a feeling – into a few seconds of film? Perfume ads often perfectly demonstrate how difficult this is. How do you convey a fragrance visually? What options do brands have when it comes to selling their products visually, with as few words as possible?

The answer is often with a metaphor. That is, speech, language or in this case visuals which compare two things. A metaphor allows someone to understand what something is like, or what it can do, by comparing it to something with which they’re already familiar or can easily imagine.

In their iPad Pro advert, Apple uses a kind of visual metaphor. The concept is straight forward. All of the items within the press are being compressed, minimised. They’re shrunk down to only 5.1mm thick. The thickness of the new iPad Pro.

All of that creative potential and knowledge, available in something only a few millimetres thick. It’s an amazing feat of engineering, there’s no doubt. But does the metaphor work?

The short answer is no.


Because rather than showing how the iPad Pro supports the creative process, the advert is destructive and disrespectful.

There’s no doubt Apple have done much to support the creative industries, developing hardware and software which has enabled ground-breaking creative work of all kinds to be produced.

So why produce an advert in which musical instruments and other artists tools are destroyed by a giant hydraulic press?

I know I’m writing about it, perhaps this is what they were aiming at. An ad which would frustrate, disturb and annoy. But that’s not very Apple. Is it?

iPads can’t replace record players, trumpets, pianos, guitars, microscopes, globes, arcade machines, drum kits, architectural models, alarm clocks, metronomes, cameras, sculptures, books. We live a 3 dimensional existence, in a 3 dimensional world.

An iPad may offer a new way to experience human creativity – even to enhance it. But it offers something different from the 3 dimensional artefacts it augments. To suggest purposefully or otherwise that an iPad is a true replacement for so many of the things which make our lives rich and colourful is a lie.

Thanks Apple, but we’ll be keeping our piano right where it is. We’ll play music together, on physical instruments. And we’ll use paint, and brushes, we’ll sew and draw and make with our hands. We’ll read books, made from paper, with pages that get torn and marked over time. We’ll listen to records, through a HIFI, and enjoy the imperfections.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my MacBook. But I can’t get on board with the idea that digital technology is a valid and true replacement for so many of the tools which have facilitated and fuelled the cultural and creative activity of humans for so long.

I don’t know whether Apple purposefully chose a visual metaphor which would spark controversy. But I think this demonstrates that all businesses, no matter what size, can land themselves in hot water by not thinking through the potential pitfalls of their creative output and advertising.

In an increasingly polarised society, social media platforms have become a hot bed of discord, fuelled by controversy. It could be tempting to fall into that trap – of using language, or images, which triggers a reaction for the wrong reasons.

But choosing this path leads to self destruction.

Instead, let’s choose to focus our creative efforts on championing the good. Rather than using our creative capacity to harm and destroy, let’s heal and fix. Instead of finding fault in our competition let’s speak positively of others.

I hope this advert, and the backlash, help Apple remember what’s important. Our world is full of young people who need to know the value of picking up a paintbrush, or opening a book, rather than picking up another digital device. Apple have done them a great disservice in pretending otherwise.

Photo by Francois Hoang on Unsplash