Apple advertising: too simple to win awards?

With the release of the iPhone 5 comes the latest batch of Apple product demo ads. They are as elegant and simple as ever, but don’t expect them to win many industry awards

With the release of the iPhone 5 comes the latest batch of Apple product demo ads. They are as understated and simple as ever, but don’t expect them to win many industry awards

Each of the iPhone 5 ads takes a separate new feature of the phone as its subject matter. Here, Apple introduces its new ear-friendly headphones (mind you, if it was so obvious that they should be designed this shape, why was Apple giving us the old ones for so many years?!)


And here it talks about the new screen size, designed to fit with an average-sized thumb – some have argued that this one is a dig at Samsung who have been banging on about the big screen on their Galaxy S III in recent ads that take some well-aimed swipes at Apple fanboys (we wrote about them here).


This one talks about the panorama photography option


And this the new phone’s slimmer profile


There’s a truism in advertising that the worse the product is, the more overblown the advertising for it has to be. As one very famous creative director once explained to me, if the product has nothing to set it apart from its rivals or, worse, is just not very good, the only route to take is to establish some kind of emotional pull with consumers, or at least (in the case of Tango or Pot Noodle) make them laugh – plain logic is not going to work. Now that’s a very cynical view and one that is not borne out in all cases – Guinness, Honda, Levi’s all have good products with equally good advertising behind them. But it is interesting in the case of Apple that the better the products have become and the more successful the company, the simpler and more straightforward the ads.


This version of Think Different is narrated by Jobs himself. Two versions of the ad were made with Jobs only deciding to use the Richard Dreyfuss-narated version shortly before broadcast

For the launch of the Apple Mac in 1984, Apple famously went for the big blockbuster courtesy of Ridley Scott. And following Jobs’ return it restated its values via Think Different. But since then, the work that TBWAChiat Day has produced for the brand has been overwhelmingly based in simple product demonstrations. The furthest it has strayed from that path was perhaps the Mac vs PC or iPod Silhouette campaign but even the latter didn’t do much other than show the product and its distinctive colour.



The recent Genius campaign moved away from the simple demo approach, with decidedly mixed results (a sign perhaps of things going awry without Jobs’ involvement?)


Last week, D&AD announced that Apple was the most highly awarded brand in its history, but the overwhelming majority of those awards were for its product design, not its advertising. In design, simplicity is highly prized, in advertising, that’s not always so. Design juries have been happy to award successive generations of Apple products, even if the changes have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Post Think Different, Apple’s ads, although incredibly effective and distinctive (if occasionally smug) have seldom piqued the interest of advertising awards juries when it comes to the big prizes. In 2004, for example, the iPod Dance commercial only managed a Bronze at Cannes. The Mac vs PC campaign again only won Bronze in 2010. The likes of Unilever, Swatch and Mars have won Cannes’ Advertiser of the Year, never Apple. The most common reason I have heard advanced for this lack of recognition is that Apple’s ads often lack a ‘big idea’. And yet Apple’s advertising has played a crucial role in making it the biggest brand on the planet. Jobs recognised the importance of advertising to the brand, personally reviewing the latest campaigns every week. And yet the industry itself remains curiously underwhelmed.



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  • Simple is good, simple is confident, simple is Apple.
    Put simply, simple sells!

  • Nancy

    I personally don’t think Jobs would have approved this simple campaign. Their is a difference between simple and innovative. These are definitely not innovative. Not special at all. I feel they are advertising the parts of the i phone that Jobs would have considered the consumer should expect from their product. Cool earbuds so what. Larger screen, every other phone hase one. IPhone users should get these bells and whistles as part of the expensive price. Advertise what the actual product does for the consumer. Come on people

  • Adam

    nicely said @nancy.

    The ads should be selling the product & saying/showing why, above over all other products on the market, you should be buying this one – I don’t see that in these iPhone 5 adverts.

    But then again, same with Samsung, they that the mick out of apple users, but done sell the product.

  • Josh


    The things that set the products apart from the competitors are the small, very well thought through details. That’s what apple is known for.

    The larger screen (as it makes clear in the ad above) is as large as physically possible while allowing the thumb to move at a functional radius. The biggest samsung phone is huge, far bigger than it’s possible to use with one thumb.
    What apple is saying is ‘we think very carefully about user centred improvements’ not just bigger is better for the sake of it

  • Who cares if they don’t win any awards. The advertising will either work or it won’t.

  • Nancy

    I guess as an avid Apple snob, I expect “very well thought through details” including graphics. Am I the only one????

    I expected “Apple Innovation” but saw a Microsoft feeling ad campaign. :(

    I had to look at the buttons on the phone in the commercial to realize this was an Apple ad.

  • pixelfibre

    Very smug. These are begging to be overdubbed!

  • alex

    suuuuper smarmy voice over, it amplifie the negatives of the brands personality, whilst the ad content aside from the panoramic cheese advert… is mundane.

    Disappointed parent speech essentially “you’ve only let yourself down Apple”

  • Fraser

    Truth be told Apple no longer excels in the smartphone industry – it’s competitors have caught up and it’s all pretty neck and neck. These adverts just seem to highlight that fact to me. But as it’s Apple there are plenty of people who will buy it because it’s the new iPhone, without really paying the competition much heed – there’s only so long that will work though.

  • Reality Check

    Only managed a Bronze at Cannes.

    Only won Bronze in 2010.

    I wish I “only” managed a bronze at Cannes.

  • Mark

    The ‘Emperors new clothes’ is a growing message from the rest of the market when it comes to iPhone (whether that’s true or not is debatable but it’s certainly being debated a lot more)

    So when Apple come out with feature led adverts like these, with the same tone of voice they’ve been using for a while now, then it doesn’t really help their cause.

    Let’s face it – headphones are headphones, it’s not a deal breaker. Ergonomic screen size is just ad fluff, hands come in different sizes. There are countless panoramic apps on the market (recommend Microsoft’s free Photosynth by the way) . Phones having larger screens and thinner bodies is just a natural development for all phones, it’s nothing unique.

    In my opinion in terms of technology, the rest of the market has caught up. Apple need re-engage customers with the brand, not dwell on the technology.

  • You can never make anything too simple, for simplicity is the law of wisdom.

  • I agree, the advertising isn’t groundbreaking or particularly exciting. It is simple, and I think that is the point they are trying to get across. The products are simple to use and that is reinforced by the adverts.

  • It showcases the product features, explains the benefits, and delivers it in a clear, uncomplicated, unglamourised way. It’s also consistent with Apple’s brand.

  • Vitor

    It looks like Apple is marketing iphone 5 specifications, rather than the product itself… It’s like they are not even trying to transmit an emotion to the spectator… everything is so sterile…