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Why Apple's Controversial iPad Ad 'Crush!' Induced reaction

Apple misread the room.

Long seen as the gold standard in marketing, the tech giant stepped up with its ad for the new iPad Pro tablet. The 60-second spot shows a massive hydraulic press literally crushing a variety of objects — including a record player, a piano, a guitar, an old TV, cameras, a typewriter, books, paint cans and tubes, and a car arcade classics — and cramming them into (voilà!) the ultra-slim iPad Pro. “Just imagine all the things it will be used to create,” Apple CEO Tim Cook gleefully posted on X alongside the ad.

The ad was meant to be quirky and clever. She jumped instantly. “The Destruction of Human Experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley,” actor Hugh Grant posted on X. “Disgusting,” wrote a columnist for tech news site TechCrunch.

Why did Apple's ad, created by its own in-house creative team, elicit such visceral reactions? Somehow, the company failed to understand the troubling implications of the emergence of a soulless machine that obliterates 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 consumers have of technology and generative artificial intelligence out to destroy humanity,” says Reed. “There's this uncertainty about how technology and social media is taking over our lives, and that's why there was a very strong backlash.”

There was also a disconnect between the ad's light-hearted tone, cheerfully 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 disrupting art and society in general,” Justine Bateman, who served as SAG-AFTRA's adviser on AI issues, told X about the ad. “This is not making things better. It's just making a few people extremely rich, at the expense of all of us.” Director Reza Sixo Safai shared a version of the ad in reverse, commenting, “Hey @Apple, fixed it for you.”

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

To be sure, Apple has a history of creating ads that raise eyebrows and challenge conventional wisdom. After all, the company once used the slogan “Think Different.”

One of the most famous Super Bowl commercials in history is Apple's “1984” commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, which called on consumers to rebel against the conformist hegemony of IBM PCs and buy a Macintosh computer. But many saw the new ad as sending the opposite message. James Clark, marketing director at UK-based venture capital firm Molten Ventures, compared the two ads this way: “1984: The monochrome, conformist, industrial world exploded by the colorful and vibrant man. 2024: Colorful and vibrant humanity is suppressed by the monochrome, conformist industrial press.”

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

While Apple scrapped plans to air the iPad Pro spot on TV, the tech giant didn't bother to pull it off the Internet. It's still there on Cook's X post — it's been viewed more than 60 million times in just over two weeks. The buzz “created a ton of additional earned media for Apple,” notes Wharton's Reed, adding, “At the end of the day, it's probably a net positive.”

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