Next Monday, Steve Jobs will take the stage in San Francisco for 2008’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. Almost everyone expects that Jobs will announce the second edition of the iPhone. And that the announcement will be followed by a barrage of stylish and witty ads. And that those ads will be followed by an avalanche of snarky spoofs on YouTube.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Apple’s marketing department must be blushing. The company’s television ad campaigns are the subject of hundreds if not thousands of parodies on the Internet. Lots of them are–let’s be honest–painfully amateurish and not all that funny. But some really get it. They take Apple’s minimalist look, its deliberately casual style, and its laidback sincerity, and turn everything on its head. Sometimes the target is Apple itself, while other times Apple’s competitors are in the crosshairs–and still other times, the idea is just to have a laugh.
Here are some of the greatest hits from the Apple-mockumercial archives.
Hunter Crestle didn’t buy the ad’s premise, because he knew that using a Mac can be just as frustrating. In his 3.5-minute spoof, Crestle rants and raves about his Mac, complaining about system lockups, interface confusion, and update hassles. Interspersed are shots of him drop-kicking an iMac and otherwise violating Apple hardware.
In a parody of the Apple iPhone ad campaign “This Is How,” this fake ad shows Bill Gates’s finger taking us on a tour of the fictitious Microsoft ZunePhone. We learn how ZunePhone users make a call (using a digital rotary dial), how the ZunePhone’s camera works (think Polaroid), and how often the ZunePhone will be delayed.
The current “Get a Mac” advertising campaign, with actors John Hodgman and Justin Long, just might be the most parody-inducing advertisement Apple has ever created. In most cases, though, the actual ads are a lot funnier than the parodies.
For my money the most innovative imitation comes from Novell, which launched this pro-Linux ad in March 2007. The ad features both a Mac and a PC claiming to be the best. Halfway through, a woman who represents Linux introduces herself, much to the chagrin of both “number one” operating systems.
In 2006, Apple’s ad campaign for new colorful iPod Nanos featured silhouettes of peppy dancers gyrating against solid colors to the sound of upbeat music. The ads were instantly popular not only with Apple fans but also with people looking for something to mock. And mock they did.
You could spend a day watching the seemingly endless tributes to the Nano ads. One of the best parodies, posted to YouTube by user heartofgold42, is sort of the polar opposite of the original Apple ad. Instead of featuring a high-energy song and a sprightly dancer, the parody shows the silhouette of the nerdy character Napoleon Dynamite, from the movie of the same name, quietly shuffling to Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat.”
Call it the notebook battle of the bulge. Apple released its svelte MacBook Air earlier this year, along with a fat-budget ad campaign. Apple’s ad showed a MacBook Air laptop being slipped out of a manila envelope, a demonstration of the 0.76-inch-thick machine’s ultraportability.
Not long after, Lenovo released the ThinkPad X300, which, while very skinny, wasn’t quite as slim as the Air. Perhaps feeling a tad insecure about its body image, Lenovo lashed out, making fun of some of the compromises that Apple had made to shave inches from the Air. A hand pulls the Air out of a manila folder, attaches a graphics card, a USB hub, an external DVD drive, and assorted other peripherals, and then tries to shove them all back into the envelope, tearing it in the process.
But it was a spoof of Apple’s “black backdrop” Apple iPhone ads that might have gotten SNL the most laughs. On November 3, 2007, SNL comedian Fred Armisen did a take on the highly stylized ad, making fun of some of the “pinch it” gestures that the iPhone’s interface supports.
Some eagle eyes spotted that the iPhone used in the commercial had undergone jailbreaking to run iPhone applications not sanctioned by Apple.
(Around the same time, another video SNL spoof of Apple’s “black backdrop” ad leaked to the Web. This “punch ‘n’ run” version of the iPhone ad was a bit more outrageous and never ran on NBC, but is available at Gizmodo.)
There’s no statute of limitations on Apple-ad parodies. A mysterious YouTuber with the handle ParkRidge47 reached all the way back to Apple’s “1984” Macintosh television commercial (which famously ran during Super Bowl XVIII) to lampoon presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The video is a mashup of the original Apple ad, which depicts a runner in an Orwellian world who throws a sledgehammer at a giant TV screen with Big Brother on it. In ParkRidge47’s version, Hillary is Big Brother, and the ad ends with a pitch for BarackObama.com.
Perhaps the most iconic installment of Apple’s “Think Different” ad campaign was a TV commercial called “The Crazy Ones.” Voice-over narration from Richard Dreyfuss played while black-and-white videos of rule-breaking achievers such as Albert Einstein, Maria Callas, and Amelia Earhart ran. The serious tenor of the ad, coupled with the images of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. that were also part of the campaign, made it an easy target for parody.
The funniest (and most tasteful) “Think Different” parody applies the same solemn music and narration to black-and-white video clips of Star Wars characters such as Yoda, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Padme Amidala.
Why let everyone else have all the fun making parody ads? That’s what I imagine Apple’s marketing department decided when it hired comedian Will Farrell to do a satire of one of its “Switch” commercials. The ad, in which Farrell contrasts Apple products with a parfait and identifies himself as a porn actor, ran at Apple’s 2002 Macworld Expo keynote.
It didn’t take long for the fake “Switch” commercial to make its way to YouTube.