It's As If Apple Has Hired Don Draper

The other day I was talking to an old friend. Not only is this friend outside the tech sphere, he’s just about as opposite of tech savvy as a person can be. He’s basically a luddite. In fact, I was surprised he was even IMing with me, he’s so seldom online. But I was more surprised by what he asked me. “What do you think of the new iPhone?

It’s one thing to know what an iPhone is, but the fact that he was aware that there was a new iPhone caught me a bit off guard. As did the fact that he was talking to me about it. I directed him to my review. But he took one glance at the 3,500+ words and immediately came back at me. “I just want to know if it’s any good.” I told him I thought it was the best out there. He thanked me and said goodbye. But before I let him go, I asked him why on Earth he wanted to know. I mean, again, this is a guy who undoubtedly uses one of these types of phones. He said that he travels a lot now and wants a better way to connect with his girlfriend on the road. I asked him, “why the iPhone?” His answer? The commercial.

Watching Apple’s iPhone 4 FaceTime commercial again, it reminds me of something: Mad Men. The television show is starting its fourth season in a couple of weeks, but the commercial takes me back to the end of season one — an episode called “The Wheel.” I’ve actually talked about this episode before because it contains a scene that is perhaps the best in the entire series. In it, ad man Don Draper gives a presentation to Kodak showing why Sterling Cooper should be handling the account for their new picture projector.

The pitch (which you can see here, but sadly I can’t embed) starts out with two execs from Kodak acknowledging that creating an ad around this “wheel” is hard because “wheels aren’t really seen as exciting technology, even though they are the original.” Draper fires back, “Technology is a glittering lure. But there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash. If they have a sentimental bond with the product.

In the iPhone 4 FaceTime commercial, that’s exactly what Apple is playing up. As we’re all well aware, video chat, even on phones, is nothing new. Sure, Apple has simplified it, but they’re not really showcasing that here. Instead they’re going right for the heart strings. They’re doing something rather incredible. They’re conveying how you’ll feel if you use the product, by making you feel alongside those in the commercial. They’re creating this sentimental bond.

Draper continues, talking about an old copyrighter he used to work with, Teddy. “He also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate. But potent.” Draper fires up the projector. “Teddy told me that in Greek, Nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.”

Again, that’s this FaceTime commercial. It’s not old pictures, but it’s more powerful. It’s loved ones that you haven’t seen in a while, that you’re apart from, right there in front of you, live. “It takes us to a place where we ache to go again,” as Draper puts it. “It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around and back home again. To a place where we know we’re loved.

And Apple goes a step further. Rather than just playing up the family bond which they do with the baby crawling on the bed, the mother with the baby, and the grandparents with the graduating grandchild, Apple shows a pregnant wife getting an ultrasound and her husband in the military, presumably overseas, watching. When the wife hits the button to flip the camera and show the unborn baby on the monitor, they cut to a shot of the husband and his face drops as if he’s about to cry. It’s extremely powerful stuff.

Then Apple kicks it up another notch. They show a girlfriend waving to a boyfriend through FaceTime just as any other couple might. Only then they reveal that the boyfriend is deaf. But thanks to the video functionality, the two can sign with one another. The commercial wraps with them each looking at the phone in awe after they sign their goodbyes, as if they’ve just done something unbelievable. Something extremely important to them. And they have. It’s delicate. But potent.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Apple hired Hollywood director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) to direct this commercial. Levels of sentiment that people often feel while watching movies rarely, if ever, travel over to advertising. But they have in this FaceTime commercial, just as they have in Draper’s Kodak presentation. It’s as if the Apple commercial borrowed a page out of the playbook that Draper was talking about in that episode.

Apple, of course, has a history of great advertising campaigns. From the ‘1984’ Super Bowl commercial (directed by another Hollywood guy, Ridley Scott), to the Think Different campaign, to the Get a Mac spots, each was effective at conveying different things about the brand. But this latest commercial is the first (to my knowledge) that really aims to connect with people on a deep emotional level. And it’s going to help Apple sell a massive amount of iPhone 4s.To people like my friend.