With Apple collecting an Emmy for its 2013 iPhone ad depicting a misunderstood youngster, we thought we'd take a look back at some of the other prominent ads the tech industry has produced in recent years.
Having started off as fabulously geeky and low-budget video promos, tech commercials have matured into artful and expansive productions. They now speak to the way we live and the way technology weaves itself into our most routine of activities. At their best, these ads make the artificial and manmade feel authentic and harmonious with our natural way of being and living. Or, alternatively, they just do a really amusing job of talking trash about the competition. And though the failures deserve the mercy of being forgotten, there are still some that are so outstandingly and singularly woeful that they remain imprinted in the common memory, like a lousy aftertaste refusing to go away.
Apple - Hello
Apple's recent library of commercials have tended to be of a very high quality, but this one might be remembered for the longest time, if only because of the product it's teasing. Associating itself with scenes from some of the most iconic films in history, Apple used this promo to tell the world about the original iPhone's release. Now that we've witnessed that phone's profound cultural and social impact, the ad gains an added air of legitimacy and appropriateness.
Beats by Dre - Hear What You Want
Celebrity endorsements usually lead to bad acting set within terribly contrived situations, but not this time. The full force of Richard Sherman's personality is projected in this 80-second spot, and the presence and eventual use of the Beats headphones feels completely natural and in line with the NFL player's habits.
Microsoft - Shoe Circus
In 2008, Microsoft was at the nadir of its Windows Vista malaise and needed a bold new marketing campaign to revive excitement about its products. Bill Gates' company invested $300 million and put him in front of the camera alongside comedian Jerry Seinfeld for this series of incomprehensible video vignettes. The ads were derided at the time and don't make much more sense when viewed in hindsight now.
Microsoft - Xbox One Invitation
This ad's title, Invitation, alliterates nicely with its two overarching themes of inclusiveness and immersion. Gaming and entertainment are woven together seamlessly in this Xbox One world, and the pleasure of the player's company is requested by no lesser figures than Spock and English football star Steven Gerrard. Having previously struggled to properly articulate the full range of benefits of its all-in-one console, Microsoft delivers a pitch-perfect presentation of its advantages with this commercial.
Motorola - Empower the People
Apple's 1984 commercial was highly effective because the Cupertino company was playing the role of underdog to the giant bully that was IBM. Motorola turned that same theme against Apple and its universally successful iPad by presenting its new Xoom tablet as a tool of liberation from Apple-enforced uniformity. The Xoom's subsequent lack of commercial success was owing to its own deficiencies rather than the quality of this engaging Super Bowl spot.
Palm - Flow
This promo for the Palm Pre was greeted with much bemusement and invited the undesirable extension of the product's name to "pretentious." Part of a series of high-concept ads intended to depict the Pre as a revolutionary device, it failed to strike the right tone with viewers and came off looking self-righteous and grandiose. The negative reaction to this ad has been softened by the passage of time and the widespread appreciation for the Pre itself, though its weirdness is unlikely to dissipate any time soon.
Samsung - The Next Big Thing
Samsung eviscerated the iPhone fanboy stereotype with this sharp and witty bit of observational comedy. The Korean company's subsequent anti-iPhone ads may have grown more outrageous and direct, but this was the original and best. T-shirts with the quote "dude, you're a barista" were distributed at CES 2012 a few months after the debut of this commercial, standing as testament to its enduring popularity.
Samsung - Are You Geared Up?
The Galaxy Gear was one of the worst new products of 2013, yet Samsung managed to create a commercial for it that was even worse. Every line is drenched in cliché, every scene is laboriously overacted, and even the strikingly good looks of the actors can't do much to salvage this alpine train wreck.
Sony - Play B3yond
Sony's odd fascination with babies gets its fullest and weirdest expression in this teaser for the PlayStation 3. Trying to explain it would require an attempt to understand it, which may be hazardous to your health. Proceed at your own risk.
Sony - Michael
Now this is the other side of Sony: the much less confusing and simply badass company that's able to command a full roster of beloved video game characters to promote its home consoles. Though it takes a while to build up, this PlayStation promo is well worth watching all the way to its satisfying conclusion.
TomTom - Darth Vader
Star Wars jokes are hard. As popular and well aged as the original movies now are, all the best puns and punchlines have already been taken, leaving marketers to reuse old tropes and familiar themes. TomTom came up with a masterful way to skirt that familiarity-bred contempt with this feigned behind-the-scenes vignette from the recording of Darth Vader's voiceover for its GPS units. You'll never think of roundabouts in the same way (or with the same word) again.
World of Warcraft - Mr. T's Night Elf Mohawk
Video game ads and trailers would surely merit a full list of their own, but from among them we couldn't neglect this brilliantly self-deprecating performance from Mr. T. The flamboyant actor leaves no doubt about his enthusiasm for the imagined Night Elf Mohawk and makes the World of Warcraft universe sound like a decidedly cool place that you might actually like to visit.