Awaiting the iPad ads

One rumor has it that the first iPad TV spots will launch March 15. What might they look like? Might Apple run a teaser ad during Sunday's Oscars, just as it did for the iPhone launch?

Many products launch themselves very much like an investment banker launching himself at a party. They strut in, chin up, determined to tell everyone how great they are in as loud a voice as possible. Somehow, they feel, everyone will hear, whether they like it or not.

Apple tends not to follow that principle. It doesn't create noise. It creates intrigue. It makes people feel positive--even, sometimes, against their better judgment. Since the very earliest days of its advertising, it has worked very hard at the art of being charming. It knows how to turn up at the party and say hello. It offers a bon mot here and a smile there, until by the end of the evening, it has won over many.

If Apple were a politician, it would win quite a few elections (it wouldn't get involved in extramarital affairs in Buenos Aires, either).

Rumors are suggesting that Apple's latest attempt to influence our behavior and tickle us with the lightest of hands, the iPad, will be available at the end of this month.

Which means advertising, and probably quite of lot of it. Some say the ads will launch March 15. What might they look like? Well, yet another rumor has suggested that Apple shot one of its new iPad spots in a California diner called Jax on the Tracks.

This, if true, is interesting in itself, as it suggests that this campaign might actually involve people. More than just their hands, I mean.

If you think about some of the great Apple ads of the recent past, rarely has Apple tried to show the people who might use its products. Yes, the iPod had silhouettes of young things, having consumed various narcotics, jiggling around with their white earphones. But more often than not, Apple doesn't want to be seen as male or female. It just wants to be seen as, oh, the slightest bit messianic.

Apple's greatest ads are the products, not the TV spots. The hugely intelligent design gives the products a character that almost seems human, because they are actually designed very much with humans (rather than engineers) in mind. Apple finds a way, through its TV spots, to make those products feel like people. It sees no need to identify what kind of people should enjoy those products.

When it launched the iPhone, in itself a revolutionary take on the phone, once it had walked into the party and said "hello" in a truly charming, star-laden way (embedded above), Apple focused only on what the product could do. There was actually a four-month gap (the ad ran during the Oscars) between saying hello and launching the phone.

If Apple has created a TV spot in a diner rather than a studio with a plain backdrop, it might suggest that the company's decided that people need more of a nudge with respect to how, when, and where the iPad might be most fun to use.

In 2007, people knew what a cell phone was. In 2010, no real human uses the phrase "tablet computer." Perhaps Apple has decided that in entering a new category, one that some say consumers don't understand or even want, it needs to bring that category alive a little more. If it succeeds, it owns the category.

Apple has never seemed fond of so-called "slice of life" storytelling. It's always placed its products on an accessible pedestal in the People's Museum and said: "Just look how cool that is." Might this change with the iPad? Somehow, I doubt it.

If I were a betting man (and I am) I might put two cents on an iPad ad appearing during storytelling's greatest night--the Oscars this Sunday. It isn't just that a superstitious company might want to repeat the formula for one of its greatest successes. It's that during the musical storytellingfest, the Grammys, Apple already pulled off a very wise piece of product placement, when Stephen Colbert produced an iPad from his inside jacket pocket (specially made, no doubt--the pocket, not the iPad)

That little demonstration, just like the "Hello" ad, bathed in a little star power aura. If the iPad really is going to be available within a few weeks, it will need to show itself to be a star of the people.

No, not Tom Cruise. Not Morgan Freeman. But, you know, George Clooney. Only without the gray hair.

 

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