Apple Is Figuring Out How To Sell An Archetype

Around the time of the iPhone 5’s release, I started thinking of Apple as an archetype factory. By removing extraneous detail and ornamentation, they were trimming down their devices to a definitive essence.

They were making conscious decisions to spend money and man hours to improve technology in invisible, rather than visible, ways. But this decision is a double-edged sword. I wrote this at the time, and I think it still holds up:

…when things become archetypes, they become intrinsically less interesting to people who thrive on dissonance and disruption. That’s why the iPhone 5 got such a converse reaction from the tech press when it was revealed. It’s an exercise in precision and restraint, not a play for our wildest imaginations.

The iPad has undergone a similar transformation with the iPad Air. Which raises an interesting question when it comes to trying to market it.

When something has been refined to its purest form — how do you convince people that you’re capable of improving it? The iPad Air 2 is improved on a variety of metrics from the original, some of those like screen lamination are readily evident if you know what to look for.

So, with its latest ad ‘Change’, which debuts today, Apple is putting the emphasis squarely on what continues to be the defining difference between the iPad and the rest of the market: capable apps that people use. Because the iPad continues to enjoy incredible mind-share with developers — who largely build for what they use and use iOS — Apple can showcase the execution, rather than the setup. While you can tout specifications in ads, the results can be unintentionally hilarious, and largely distant from the way real people think about devices.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 11.20.19 AM

Some takeaways from the Change spot:

  • It’s got a significantly new visual style, which may be a result of Apple taking a much more collaborative approach on new iPad advertising, rather than an agency pitch model.
  • The iPad is highlighted as a blank space on which people can write their own use cases. The hollow devices is filled up with the way people are using it, which is appropriate for an archetype. Apple is free to let the device disappear.
  • Focusing on Apple’s major advantage, its app and usage dominance, is a smart play. The market share of tablets worldwide is dominated by Android as an operating system, but the pure value in terms of dollars and usage is clearly still being generated on iOS. iPad sales have slowed year over year, so the holiday season will be an interesting one for Apple and this is a good toehold.
  • The spot also does a decent job of positioning the iPad as a tool, rather than as an object of reverence. Previous spots featured a lot of white people touching the iPad lovingly in their mid-century modern living rooms filled with 2.5 kids. When Apple expanded its last iPad campaign, I noted that it would be good to include people doing more ‘regular’ stuff and that this could still be exciting. I feel it executed on that pretty well here.

You can watch the new spot on Apple’s site, when it’s on YouTube we’ll embed it here.