Is the ‘Crush’ Backlash a Dead Canary in the Apple Brand Coal Mine?

David Heinemeier Hansson:

This should all be eerily familiar to anyone who saw Microsoft fall from grace in the 90s. From being America’s favorite software company to being the bully pursued by the DOJ for illegalities. Just like Apple now, Microsoft’s reputation and good standing suddenly evaporated seemingly overnight once enough critical stories had accumulated about its behavior.

It’s not easy to predict these tipping points. Tim Cook enthusiastically introduced this awful ad with a big smile, and I’m sure he’s sitting with at least some sense of “wtf just happened?” and “why don’t they love us any more?”. Because companies like Apple almost have to ignore the haters as the cost of doing business, but then they also can’t easily tell when the sentiment has changed from “the usual number” to “one too many”. And then, boom, the game is forever changed.

Ever since this controversy regarding the “Crush” ad erupted yesterday, I’ve been wondering the same thing. As I wrote yesterday, when I first saw the ad during the keynote, I didn’t think twice about it. It didn’t strike me as particularly clever, but I didn’t suspect for even a second that it might prove even slighty controversial. It just didn’t strike a nerve for me. But clearly it struck a nerve for many, evoking negative emotional responses — which for a brand like Apple’s, makes it ipso facto a failed ad.

But Apple could have used this exact same concept for any previous “thinnest ever” iPad. They could have used this exact same commercial for the original iPad in 2010 — a device that doesn’t seem thin or light by today’s standards but was rightly considered remarkably thin and light at the time it launched. You can paint, you can draw, you can edit photos and video, you can make music, you can play games — all in this single incredibly thin device. That’s not a new message for iPads.

Would this exact same commercial have evoked the same collective response in 2010? I’m going to say no, it would not have. What about in 2018? I’m going to say ... probably not? Something has changed. Part of it is that our culture has changed. I don’t think many people 10 or 15 years ago would have seen dissonance between Apple’s oft-professed sustainability ideals and a commercial celebrating the destruction of artistic tools and objects. And the bigger change is the recognition that computers are eating the world. In 2010 it was seen only as cool that computers were doing more and more stuff. Today there’s widespread uncomfortableness, perhaps outright concern, that the digital world is consuming the analog one. It plays differently today than a decade ago to emphasize that an iPad can replace a veritable truck-full of artistic tools and toys.

But part too is that Apple’s position in our culture has changed. They’re no longer, and never again will be, the upstart. They’re The Man now. They’re part of the firmament of our entire society, not just the tech world. When you’re on top, everyone guns for you.

Thursday, 9 May 2024