Apple wants you to know that buying a $400 smartwatch could be a matter of life-and-death — and it’s brilliantly, gruesomely captured that feeling in a new TV ad.
Titled “911,” the one-minute ad spot doesn’t show any of the gory details — you simply hear three phone conversations between 911 operators and people who managed to use their Apple Watch when facing seemingly imminent death: one who might drown in a sinking car, one who fell a great distance and broke his leg, and a paddleboarder who got swept out to sea.
They each have a happy ending, Apple informs us: “With the help of their watch, Jason, Jim, and Amanda were rescued in minutes.” But the underlying message is brutally clear: if they didn’t have this miraculous life-saving product on their wrists, they could have died alone. Apple is well known for commissioning heartstring-plucking ads, and this one is no exception: it’s painfully easy to imagine myself bleeding out or drowning, with no help on the way, when I listen to their scared voices.
I’m torn about this marketing, because it partially rings true. You don’t have to search long to find people who believe the Apple Watch genuinely saved their life. I nearly bought one for my dad a while back, believing it a small price to pay just in case it made a difference. (He declined; for one thing, he’s on Android.) Even though there are other smartwatches that could theoretically make emergency calls, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say an Apple Watch is the obvious choice, particularly if you believe the fall detection, irregular heartbeat flagging, and walking steadiness indicator might also help.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Apple is now selling you on fear, edging into shady insurance salesman territory to do so. It’s a good ad, but it feels a little shameless.
Besides, the feature Apple’s showing off here is still a phone call — something you can also do with a phone. This is an optional, pricey gadget you have to remember to put on your wrist, compared to the phone that every Apple Watch customer already owns and keeps on their person — except, perhaps, in the middle of a car accident or a paddleboarding excursion.
If I were in a life-or-death situation like these, would I really dial 911 from my watch? Perhaps I would, and be grateful. But I think it’s more likely I’d have my phone, rather than the Apple Watch that spends most of its time forgotten on my bedside shelf.