What makes the new iPhone ads so different?

Most certainly you have seen the new iPhone TV spots. They feature Samuel L. Jackson and Zooey Deschanel putting Siri to work playing music and setting reminders. Good stuff, right?

Well, after first being sighted, some thought the ads to be the work of Verizon or AT&T -- not Apple.

Says John Gruber:

I’ve been thinking about these two spots all week, and something about them doesn’t sit quite right with me. It says something that there was speculation at first that they were AT&T-produced spots, but they’re not — they’re from Apple.

I agree, and was unable to put my finger on what exactly made the ads so strange to me. So I figured I'd take a look at some other iPhone 4S and Apple ads and find out what seems so... off.

Previous iPhone 4S Spots

Let's first look at the initial iPhone 4S ad, which appeared at the launch of the device in late 2011. It's a 30 second spot that features iPhone users moving around quickly, speaking to their phone (sometimes with questions, sometimes with demands). There are a few notable things about this ad:

  • Only in the final seconds do we actually see the phone respond.
  • The only face that is seen in full and still is the child's.
  • The focus of the camera is always on the phone itself.

Essentially, the ad is creating a sense of excitement things are happening quickly and whatever it is they're talking to is meant to solve a problem or answer a question. These questions are clearly meant to display a wide variety of ability on the part of Siri.

In this sense, the ad seems to convey the following:

  • Your life can be rushed, and you could use an assistant.
  • The iPhone now has an assistant called Siri which can perform a wide variety of tasks for you.

The ad builds a case for the product by outlining a problem and then solving it. Simple.

However, it may not be best to compare the new spots only to the initial one. The first spot must introduce us to the product while the newer ones do not need to.

And so, let's take a look at a more recent ad, from earlier this year, "Road Trip."

This ad features a lot of the same things as the initial Siri ad:

  • Camera focus on the phone.
  • Dialogue addressed to the phone asking for assistance.
  • Camera does not show the full face of the speaker.
  • Problem outlined, solution provided.
  • In addition, this ad features the same background music as the initial ad.

This newer ad (and its counterpart) do very similar things in comparison to the initial Siri ad. While there is more of a focus on Siri itself, and an actual narrative, the problem/solution structure is clearly present.

Older Ads

The most obvious difference difference between the newly released iPhone ads and other recent Apple ads is the inclusion of celebrities. Some may say that John Hodgman and Justin Long (of "Get a Mac" fame) are celebrities, but they both pale in comparison to Jackson and Deschanel.

So, when was the last time big names were used in Apple advertisements?

Turns out, it's been some time. While the "Think Different" ads of the late 1990's made use of famous figures, it was the "Switch" ads of the early 2000's that used celebrities actively the celebs literally spoke to the viewer.

Celebrities featured include Tony Hawk, Will Ferrell, and even Yo-Yo Ma. These ads had the problem/solution structure, with both problem and solution explained by the celebrity. In that way, the ads are just as simple as the iPhone 4S ads.

Even looking at ads which focus on iCloud, the premise is simple and obvious:

  • Sometimes you want things to be everywhere.
  • iCloud puts things everywhere.

I don't even need more than two bullet points.

Jackson and Deschanel

The new ads have some clear departures from the previous iPhone 4S ads:

  • User of the phone is clearly visible.
  • Siri is doing common things.
  • The camera is usually not focused on the phone, but on the larger scene.
  • The interaction with Siri is playful.
  • There is no background music.
  • The user is alone in their home.
  • "iPhone 4S" is simply overlayed on the screen at the end it is assumed that the viewer knows of the product already.

Now, while these ads do in some way utilize the problem/solution structure, they do so in a much more casual way, and they do not focus on the product but instead seem to focus on the user. In many ways, they don't outline a problem at all. These are big changes. By not focusing on the phone, and showing the face of the celebrity, the ad seems to be trying to communicate something other than "look how helpful Siri is." Rather, the ad is trying to say "look how fun Siri is." This is a stark difference from earlier Siri ads, which seemed to be trying to express the utility of a voice-activated assistant.

Apple seems to be attempting to capitalize on the image that Siri has taken on in society. The average user refers to Siri as "she," and engages in playful banter even if they don't have an actual use for "her." Siri is not as much an assistant as it is a friend which is why Jackson and Deschanel are simply home alone, talking to their iPhones as if they're best of pals.


These ads are a depature from the typical Apple ads, but this is not at all a bad thing. The confusion in the technology community is a result of the fact that those in the technology community see Siri and the iPhone differently than the average consumer. When looking at advertisements, we tend to look for features. However, these new spots focus instead on the experience. They are not showing off wireless syncing or fun apps. Instead, these ads are trying to sell the iPhone as an experience.

I think they very much succeed as ads because of this and because Apple very much succeeds at experiences.