"Your Verse"

Apple aired a new TV spot for the iPad Air today called “Your Verse Anthem" along with an accompanying website detailing the stories depicted in the ad.

John Paczkowski at Re/Code writes:

Dubbed “Your Verse Anthem,” the 1:30 spot is anchored firmly at that intersection of arts and technology that Apple is so fond of and features scenes of people using the iPad air in precisely those circumstances: Analyzing hockey plays, calibrating windmills, choreographing a halftime show, building a Lego robot, shooting video of a waterfall. All of this is set to a voiceover from the film “Dead Poets Society,” a speech arguing that the need for poetry, beauty and love subsumes the need for noble pursuits like business and engineering, which are themselves essential.

Like many of Apple’s ads, the spot is typically over-reaching, bordering on hyperbolic (recall another iconic Apple advertisement that also debuted during a big football game). But it’s also effective and pretty powerful. It’s hard to look at all these various iPad use cases and not conclude that the iPad and other devices like it are having a transformative effect on our culture. Certainly, that’s the argument Apple is making here.

Conceptually, I see this as a continuation of the “Pencil" Ad, which Apple used to introduce the iPad Ad, and the "Life on iPad" series. "Pencil" essentially recaps the story of the iPad, and ends by looking forward with the following statement:

And we can’t wait to see where you’ll take it next.”

With “Your Verse”, Apple is showing us how people are empowered by the iPad Air in new ways, and expands the idea started by the “Life on iPad” vignettes.

Ben Thompson, who started the conversation about Apple’s iPad marketing had this to say about “Life on iPad”:

Yesterday, Apple released several short vignettes that accompanied the video they showed at the iPad introduction. The series is called Life on iPad. They are remarkable, both in presentation and content, and multiple people thoughtfully reached out to me suggesting this was the magic I was looking for.

I can see where they’re coming from: there’s no question the iPad has unlocked amazing new use cases. But – and this gets at the trouble I have with Apple’s messaging – how many people work on windmills? How many people are surgeons? Who are these vignettes for? What is more meaningful? Is it these impressive but rather obscure examples, or is it the confidence and ability to connect to Wi-Fi in a foreign country, to contact your son and let him know you’re almost there?

The magic of the iPad is twofold: one, it empowers all kinds of people who find a PC just a bit intimidating to have their own bicycle of the mind – and, let’s be honest, that’s almost everyone but us geeks. Two, the iPad does enable brand new use cases, which these vignettes get at, but what about these use cases resonates broadly? Where are the examples of making music, drawing, or designing – things that unlock the creativity I, naive as it may be, truly believe exists in all of us just waiting for the means to burst out?

"Your Verse" addresses these criticisms in a very direct way with the voiceover from "Dead Poet’s Society", and the uses cases it depicts. The Liberal Arts are back in the foreground. We see people using the iPad in extraordinary and relatively ordinary settings. Absent are speeds, feeds, and the direct focus on product attributes that characterized Apple’s iPad Keynote or the “Pencil” ad.

When I saw “Your Verse”, I noticed two things:

  • The Usecases Benefit From The iPad: In “Whither Liberal Arts”, Ben Thompson wrote (emphasis added):

    Apple had launched the iPad in 2010 not quite sure of its place in the universe, but a year later, the vision was clear: it was not that the iPad needed to be better at jobs done by a laptop or smartphone, as Jobs promised in 2010; rather, the iPad was capable of previously unimagined applications that were truly life-changing. To put it another way, the iPad 1 launch featured Pages, a pale imitation of a PC word processor; the iPad 2 launch featured GarageBand, an application that was immensely better on the iPad by virtue of it not being a PC.

    Many of the usecases in this ad benefits from the qualities that define the iPad. Let’s look at this example from the “Your Verse” site:

    New York‑based filmmaker Josh Apter has created a housing for iPad that turns it into a lightweight, portable moviemaking camera. With attachments like microphones, SLR lenses, and other accessories, he takes iPad on the go to shoot his documentaries.

    This is something that Apter probably couldn’t do as effectively with just an iPhone, which is too small, or a PC, which is too bulky. In other words, it benefits from the iPad not being these either a Smartphone or Tablet.

  • Tablets Are Commodities, The iPad Is Not: After last’s year’s iPad event, many felt that Apple should return to the tone and messaging from ads like “We’ll Always" and "Love”. I think these ads are lovely and great for their time.

    The difference here is that the dynamics of the tablet market have shifted significantly since the iPad 2 was originally released. Android tablets have improved in quality and can easily beat the iPad on price (last year’s non-retina iPad mini is $100 more than this year’s Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire).

    Google, in particular, has stepped up its marketing game with the “Fear Less" and "Curious”. While the execution of these ads may not be as good as “We’ll Always" or "Love”, they share the same tone, and “every day” setting and usecases of “regular” people using the device. In fact, almost all of Google’s Nexus ads employ this approach .

    Compare this with “Your Verse” and the implicit message is: “Tablets are Ordinary, but iPad is Extraordinary”. Put another way, it is: “Tablets Are Ordinary. With iPad, you can be Extraordinary”. It makes the case for the premium price point of the iPad, while also conveying Apple’s mission to empower human beings through technology.

    Furthermore, “Your Verse” stresses the benefits of the iPad’s app ecosystem in a relatively subtle manner. When you look at the Nexus 7 ads, the users are primarily using Google apps and services. By contrast, “Your Verse” primarily showcases third-party apps and services, going as far as to name a few of the specifically on the “Your Verse” website. The implication here is that even if you wanted to these things with an Android tablet, you might not be able to, because the apps simply may not even be there. And let’s be honest: if Android tablets had these kinds of apps, Google would run ads highlighting them.

Hither Liberal Arts

After last year’s iPad keynote, I said:

Since we are still at the very beginning of the new product lifecycle for the iPad, I’m willing to wait and see how Apple promotes and messages the new product. This year’s run of iPhone ads have shown that the company is very capable of crafting stories to communicate the vision for a product, and there’s no reason that they couldn’t pull off something similar for the iPad. If Apple continues to focus on the hardware and not how people are empowered by the iPad, I think it’s fair to say there is an issue.

"Life on iPad" was a step in the right direction, but I think "Your Verse" really nails it on multiple fronts. It brings the liberal arts back into the conversation, while also showing how the iPad is a truly magical product.

While you can argue that “Your Verse” is lofty, and the use cases don’t resonate broadly like those from earlier ads, consider how much the world has changed since 2011. What was once impossible, like "holding an entire bookstore", "curling up with a movie", "seeing a phone call", or "touching the stars", is now par for the course, something many now take for granted.

Me, I like aspiring for the extraordinary.

One more thing…

In the voiceover from “Dead Poet’s Society”, there’s a part that says:

To quote from Whitman,

“O me, O life of the questions of these recurring. Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer: that you are here. That life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

“That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

Steve Jobs, quoted from Walter Issaacson’s biography1:

“What drove me? I think most creative people want to express appreciation for being able to take advantage of the work that’s been done by others before us. I didn’t invent the language or mathematics I use. I make little of my own food, none of my own clothes. Everything I do depends on other members of our species and the shoulders that we stand on. And a lot of us want to contribute something back to our species and to add something to the flow. It’s about trying to express something in the only way that most of us know how—because we can’t write Bob Dylan songs or Tom Stoppard plays. We try to use the talents we do have to express our deep feelings, to show our appreciation of all the contributions that came before us, and to add something to that flow. That’s what has driven me.”

  1. Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. 1st. New York: Simon Schuster, 2013. 570. Print.