Here’s a concise summary of the newest Apple ad: A family weeps at Christmas. And here’s a concise summary of the latest Google ad, for a budget tablet: A young man’s dog is dying while he’s away at college.
As companies that make products, Apple and Google are now competing in virtually every way. They’re both trying to sell phones, tablets, TV products, laptops, software ecosystems. They will almost inevitably compete in whatever device or software category comes next. In the process of competing with each other, they’ve both broadened their offerings to a redefining point: They consider themselves as much lifestyle companies as tech companies. Their advertising seems to reflect this.
As lifestyle companies, however, they’ve decided to skip right past aspirational ads, and jubilant ads, straight to tears. Viewing Google’s most recent ads all at once is like running some kind of poignancy gauntlet. Here’s one about a woman Gchatting with her father after her mother dies. Here’s one about a baby growing up and almost succumbing to fever, but not (thank god and thank Google). Apple’s have been less morbid but are still openly manipulative and sentimental.
This type of advertising is neither new nor unique to tech, but it’s a choice worth thinking about: What does it mean that Google and Apple are no longer advertising as cool, or as innovative, and that they’re hardly advertising their products at all? And why are they so intent on making us cry? These ads work well if you think about Apple as the company that makes your phone, which you like. They work less well if you think about Apple as one of the largest corporations, if not the largest corporation, on Earth.