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Apple's holiday ad: Heartwarming or everything that's wrong with society?


Apple earlier this week released a new holiday ad dubbed "Misunderstood." The ad follows a teenage boy who seemingly would rather spend his holiday vacation glaring at his iPhone than interacting with his family. The twist at the end is that our protagonist is far from the self-removed and isolated character he initially appears to be. On the contrary, he's been busy documenting sweet moments between family members and putting it all together in a short and sweet film.

The response to the commercial has been, as far as I can tell, almost universally positive. The commercial almost plays like a brief short film and nicely captures the awkwardness that generally categorizes one's teenage years.

Even legendary Apple ad man Ken Segall -- who is certainly not afraid to criticize Apple's advertising efforts -- was warmed by the ad and applauded Apple for taking a risk.

Ever see a company spend nearly half of its holiday commercial depicting the downside of its own product?

Apple has done just that - painting the picture of a kid seemingly more interested in the virtual world of his iPhone than the family around him.

The twist, of course, is that this kid is different. Far from withdrawn, he's actually inspired. He's using technology to give the family a gift from the heart - one that will be treasured for years to come.

It's a clever concept. The spot relies on our own stereotypes to lead us to an incorrect assumption, setting the stage for the second half of the spot to pull our heartstrings so effectively. Despite its cleverness, the spot feels very real.

Per usual, Apple isn't just selling us on a product, it's selling us on an experience. Steve Jobs loved talking about how advancements in computing help enhance interpersonal relationships and this commercial depicts this in an artful, elegant and relatable way.

Not everyone, however, shares that sentiment.

Andy Ihnatko, for instance, takes the view that Apple's ad signifies technology gone awry insofar as it creates a barrier to interpersonal communication.

While conceding that the ad is sweet and heartwarming, Ihnatko writes that he would have liked the commercial more if the kid actually put his darned iPhone away for a second.

Ihnatko takes umbrage with the fact that Apple depicts a kid who relies on technology as a crutch to interact with the world at large.

I probably would have enjoyed "Misunderstood" more if they'd abandoned the basic concept of the end-of-ad twist entirely. This ad would have made a powerful statement if instead of shot after shot of the kid focusing a screen, the first half was shot after shot of the kid making the same gesture over and over and over again: putting the phone down.

Don't even show him shooting photos and video. Show me a montage in which he puts the phone in his pocket and jumps on the sled. He lowers the phone and laughs with his cousins because the goofy photo came out so well. He hurriedly flicks the wake/sleep button and drops the phone on the table so he can pick up cutlery and dig into a piece of pie. Over and over again: show him putting the phone away, not the activity he was watching through the screen, or the time that editing and assembling the video took away from human interactions.

I think this completely misses the point.

The thrust of the ad is that this teenage kid, without his iPhone, would be even further removed from his family. That may sound jarring and pessimistic, but it's easy to forget how difficult the teenage years are for a lot of kids, especially ones with a creative and artistic bent. A tweet I saw the other day astutely pointed out that this same kid, perhaps a generation earlier, would be completely immersed in his own world, headphones on and completely immersed in either TV, comic books or computing.

While technology can undoubtedly hamper interpersonal communication, it can just as easily facilitate it. Apple's "Misunderstood" ad, I think, depicts the latter. To that end, I don't think it's a coincidence that the ad, in just a few days, has already amassed more than 4.3 million views on YouTube, far eclipsing any other video Apple put out this year, if not in many years.

What do you guys and gals out there think? Do you view this commercial as a tour de force of emotional advertising or emblematic of everything that's wrong with society?

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