Four storytelling seeds in Apple’s new creative feast
Are you a Mac or a PC? No doubt you’ll remember Apple’s Get a Mac campaign which ran from 2006 to 2009 featuring two guys set against a simple white backdrop. Zero diversity points, but 10 outta 10 for the laughs and target audience insights.
These ads worked because we love two things: simple love/hate arguments (coriander, anyone?) and great comedy.
Fast forward and Apple’s revived the formula with the second of its Apple at Work short films, ‘The whole working from home thing’. At seven minutes, it's more than double the length of the first film released last year, The Underdogs, and at the time of writing had notched up nearly 27 million views on YouTube.
‘The whole working from home thing’ embraces diversity in contrast to Apple's ‘Get a Mac’ campaign, and uses humour to connect with us via a shared cultural experience.
I believe Apple at Work is a fantastic example of long-form brand storytelling which grabs you from the very first line, “How’s that whole working from home thing goin’ for ya?”
Good question! Working from home is one of the biggest narratives in 2020. It’s of course driven by a sea of emotions connected to disruption, change, uncertainty and
The plot doesn’t shy from these issues. A team of four people are working at home, and thanks to a dictatorial boss and zealous accountant, have been given a short timeframe and tight budget to design a physical product for a project aptly named “Pandora’s Box”. (Pandora's Box is an artefact from Greek mythology which today is used to describe a gift which at first appears valuable, but is in fact a curse.)
So is all that drama fodder for comedy and brand storytelling? Sure is.
Looking through the Beliefonomics lens, here are four tips, or dare I say, storytelling seeds that CEOs, leaders and storytellers can learn about navigating uncertain times from Apple’s seven minute creative feast.
Seed 1: Embrace all the feels
In classic Apple style, this mini-film embraces the working from home narrative without pandering to panic, fear or hopelessness. It keeps our attention with an upbeat sentiment and sharp humour.
As I write in Beliefonomics, we connect with hearts and minds when our storytelling is weighted in favour of emotions. A good rule of thumb is to direct 70 percent of your strategic focus towards emotional engagement versus the pursuit of rational arguments (or product features).
The music and soundscape is bright, the scripting is tight, and the characters are carefully diverse while relatable (I recommend ‘Beauty of Diversity in Storytelling with Director Carrie Stett’ for more on this topic). It’s very much in sync with Apple’s tone of voice and aesthetic.
With the right mix you can create what I call a Belief Moment, an active moment of choice that shifts people from unbelief towards belief, or vice versa.
Seed 2: Drama is your friend
Without drama, or tension, you simply don’t have a story. Who wants to watch a film, TV-series, comedy show or documentary devoid of drama? No one. Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey teaches us our hero must encounter insurmountable odds and emerge triumphant.
Apple embraces this idea of creating conflict with the character of Vivienne, the team’s boss. She appears outrageously arrogant and dictatorial. She’s the villain needed in every story, but she’s not the only source of drama.
The team finds itself beset by all the high-pressure normalities of working at home life - kids making a mess, parents getting in the way, sheer exhaustion and attempting to navigate collaboration tools.
Seed 3: Don’t take yourself too seriously
Apple is quite clearly having fun, again. It discovered the power of fun with Mac vs PC, deliberately provoking the competition, and Microsoft fans.
As a counterpoint, it'd be remiss of me not to share many reports that Steve Jobs apparently culled some of the funnier versions. Apparently about 300 were shot, but only 66 ever aired, with actor Justin Long - the “Mac Guy” - quoted as saying, ‘[Apple] said, basically, that Steve Jobs preferred when they weren’t super funny . . . because he thought it would detract from the point of the commercial. He thought if people were too focused on the humor in it, they would lose sight of the product.’
What’s curious today is our inclusive, sensitive culture (which I welcome) can sometimes miss the point. One Forbes contributor attacked the ad, calling it an “appalling” example of leadership.
Another columnist, this time at Inc. wasn’t impressed, either. He argued the film normalises a stressful remote working environment. Leaders should set clear and realistic expectations, and this was a bad example. In a follow-up article, he doubled down in response to reader feedback: “For a brand, trust is by far the most powerful asset, and when the story you tell is disconnected from the reality people experience, you lose credibility. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how playful or fun an ad is if it's wrong. And Apple's ad is exactly that.”
Wrong? Appalling? Both writers earnestly miss the point. This isn’t reality or “an example” of Apple’s views on leadership. Comedy thrives on exaggerated, hyper versions of reality.
Seed 4: Comedy is strategic
Corporate storytellers often reflexively avoid comedy because it’s considered ‘risky’. That’s definitely true, comedy is a storytelling art and science in itself. But comedy cuts through like few other approaches. Make someone laugh and you can tell them anything, to misquote Marilyn Monroe.
A key insight lost on many marketing commentators is the underlying business issue: Apple might be the world’s most valuable company by market cap (as of 1 August) but it doesn’t own the market for office productivity suites, despite the fact its software ships natively with hardware like the MacBook, iPhone and Apple Watch.
Traditionally a consumer tech company, Apple is not seen as the first choice for most organisations when it comes to office suites. That world is of course dominated by Microsoft 365 and G Suite.
Apple’s messaging is different, literally. It doesn’t just sell office software, but an entirely integrated hardware, software and cloud-based ecosystem. Not surprisingly, you’ll find the business tab at apple.com is also called Apple at Work.
So the question I’d ask you, having watched Apple at Work, do you now believe Apple’s ecosystem is a viable competitor to Microsoft and Google? Having laughed along as the film showed a seamless collaboration between team members, would you now reconsider Apple as an office productivity solution?
Note that I said reconsider.
Mapped against The Belief Journey (illustrated below) it appears this film is designed to move customers from “Unbelief” in Apple’s business software credibility to the “Reconsider” stage.
The Belief Journey
One of three dials in the Beliefonomics Storytelling Framework™ global leaders are now using to unlock power and purpose in their brand storytelling.
Learn more about the six stages of The Belief Journey HERE.
Does it work? For me, the answer is yes. I am reconsidering my beliefs. For example, is it really as seamless and powerful as predicted? I want to know more. How about you?
Mark Jones is a master storyteller, brand strategist and author of 'Beliefonomics: Realise the true value of your brand story' available in print (A$24.99 plus P&H) or ebook (A$9.99). Book him to host or speak at your next virtual or in-person event.