In Daniel Johnston’s song “The Story of an Artist,” you hear the imperfections, lack of polish, and earnestness of what sounds like a homemade recording. One courtesy of an artist who’s long struggled with mental illness and has a beautifully sad canon filled with songs like this one, in which he asks, sounding pained and fragile: “Listen up and I’ll tell a story, about an artist growing old.”
Instructive, perhaps, that song is the one chosen as the backing track for one of four new ads from Apple showcasing how different creatives use the Mac as part of their work. In the other ads, we meet a legally blind photographer — “I want to see the things that have always felt out of reach” — an app developer and musician and current Elon Musk flame Grimes, all showing how they wrestle with the alchemy of creating something from nothing. And using the Mac, of course, to coax into existence everything from music to apps.
There’s also, of course, a double meaning implied in the theme of this “Behind the Mac” campaign. That Apple is about more than just a smartphone. A critic may also look at that title and snicker – yep, that’s pretty much the case. The Mac is falling, well, behind.
Inspired by what he saw at WWDC 2018, for example, Rogue Amoeba Software developer Quentin Carnicelli blasted the Mac on his company’s blog, as we previously noted here. He wrote that Apple’s “current failure to keep the Mac lineup fresh, even as they approach a trillion-dollar market cap, is both baffling and frightening to anyone who depends on the platform for their livelihood.”
It seems like it’s no accident the ads are dropping right now. Apple didn’t have any Mac hardware updates at WWDC, the MacBook and MacBook Pro have been dealing with keyboard issues, and now seems like as good a time as any to remind people Apple has a family of hardware it still apparently believes in beyond the phone.
The ads in the new campaign have been given their own prominent piece of real estate on Apple’s homepage, and Apple has been pushing them online as well as airing the campaign during the FIFA World Cup.
It’s worth noting the coverage so far about the campaign has put a focus on the hardware, but the people are arguably just as important. Former Apple creative director Ken Segall explained to me once how Steve Jobs had a weird thing about people in Apple ads – that it’s tricky, because depending on how you do it, viewers might get turned off by not seeing themselves in the actors and the people you’ve chosen to shoot.
This new campaign seems to strike the right balance. Showing a cross section of humanity, all finding their way to some creative truth.