Apple used to do great ads. The silhouettes of iPod users, offsetting the machine's white wires, were tremendously vivid, recognisable and memorable - classy and classic brand design. Then there were the dancing, multi-coloured iMacs, animated to make brilliant symmetrical patterns while the Rolling Stones played 'She's A Rainbow', beautifully blending the vintage with the ultra modern. I even enjoyed the humour and audacity of the 'I'm a Mac, I'm a PC' campaign with Mitchell and Webb personifying the two computers. In truth, if ever there was an advertiser which had a unique tone of voice and a real handle on their brand communications, it was Apple - and it was always amusing to watch Microsoft flailing in their wake. But something has gone wrong.
I noticed the new Apple TV spot earlier this week. I may have actually seen it before, but it is so trite and weak it's quite possible it completely washed over me.
The piece is called 'Our Signature' and it irritates from the very start. 'This is it!' intones the husky American voice-over man, as we see a young woman on the bus, unconvincingly moved by the music on her iPod. 'This is what matters ...' he continues, cutting to a classroom of children all pawing at their iPads. And instantly you know you're into one of those faux-profound, insincere, 'making the world a better place' scenarios, you've seen a thousand times before from Coca-Cola to Nikon. Indeed, moments later, voice-over man actually suggests Apple kit '... makes life better' (inevitably, this is paired with a slo-mo, hipster couple hugging on a bridge and taking 'selfies' on an iPhone.
'Does it deserve to exist?' we're asked, as if we care - before we're transported to a phony looking rave where the DJ is dropping some phat joints off his Mac laptop (I believe this is the correct yoof vernacular, but don't write). Then we're tipped right over the hyperbole cliff: 'Everything we touch, enhances every life it touches' says Mr. Apple, as though he's talking about universal healthcare for the entire human race, as opposed to some expensive electronic devices with rounded corners.
All this, of course, is Mac fetishist heaven. Folks with an unhealthy addiction to Mac's machines and marketing will probably relate to this waffle in their droves. If nothing else, the copywriter has recognised that members of the 'cult of Mac' tend to think like this. They're sort of technology Scientologists, replacing L. Ron Hubbard with Steve Jobs and ignoring the recent accusations of uncompetitive strategies and other dubious practices.
But there's little point in an advertisement preaching to the converted. Those daft enough to imagine the world's kids are gaining a superior education because they all have iPads are already prepared to shell out for any box Apple throws at them. They don't need an ad to convince them. For the rest of us, this just comes over as self-aggrandising nonsense.
Anyway, the whole film wraps up with the message 'This is our signature, and it means everything' as the plinky-plonky music concludes and the words 'Made by Apple in California' appear. This is disingenuous in the extreme and goes beyond irritation. As we are all too aware, much of Apple's gear is actually produced in Chinese plants with appalling labour laws and scant regard for workers' welfare.
Maybe I'm a hypocrite, though. I have two iPods (both packed up within a year or so of purchase) and an iPhone (old version three, still going strong) and they have all been reasonably handy tools, which I was pleased to own. What was noticeably absent however, was any notion they had touched my life and turned the world into a hazy, rose-tinted paradise. Perhaps I just missed the 'utopian euphoria' option in the settings menu. Or perhaps Apple are just full of pip.
Magnus Shaw is a writer, blogger and consultant