Apple’s magic, it’s not about the technology.

The festive season is here, a time of year full of magic, celebration and family. Each year the family and I make the effort to get back home to Melbourne to share this amazing time of year. A time in which we create and reflect on the year. But something stood out for me, a company that is universally admired for they creativity and magic has shown the world, the magic isn’t over.

When browsing various news streams I came across Apple’s magical 1:30-long commercial  that brings to life the Steve Jobs vision that technology alone is not enough. Since Jobs’ departure and tearful passing, Apple has come under constant scrutiny of loosing their mojo. But Apple’s holiday commercial re-injected us all with the magic. The commercial titled “Misunderstood” is deprecating in the most surprising way — a teenager obsesses over his iPhone instead of jollying with the family for the holidays. It’s all so terribly stereotypical, and watching you have to wonder what insanity has taken over Apple marketers. Even the most evangelistic techies in the world have a story of a special moment that was interrupted by the use of a smart phone, iPad or headphones. But there’s a great, sentimental story here which I won’t explain. Watch the commercial and judge for yourself.  And then you’ll believe, Apple has got back its marketing mojo.

The name may be a perfect fit for this year’s holiday ad that shows how the Harris family spends its time together. As the song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” plays in the background, the viewer is introduced to the Harris family, including a teenager who appears perfectly content to just sit back and play with his iPhone 5s while his relatives enjoy the season around him. More recently, Apple marketing is so-so — nothing like the glory days under Steve Jobs’ leadership. But “Misunderstood” pulls the heart-strings.

But there’s a twist: Apparently, the sullen teen was creating a video of the family gathering the whole time, presumably using iMovie, and at the end of the commercial, presents his creation on the television for all to enjoy via AirPlay. The commercial has sparked a minor controversy on Twitter, where initial reactions to the spot range from “clever” and “ironic” to “manipulative” and “a sad commentary on culture” (actually, that last one was promoting a Forbes post about the ad). Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller even used the microblogging platform to promote the spot as well.

The next time someone asks for a good example of irony, send them to the video above of Apple’s holiday commercial and tell them it’s called “Misunderstood.” Ninety seconds later, without a word of dialogue, it’s nearly impossible to fail to understand exactly what Apple is selling. Not specs. Not a laundry list of features. Not 64-bit processors or gigabytes of flash memory. No, it’s selling the devices that let you capture moments and share them. It’s selling something magical that brings a family together, even the boy who seemed completely distant and removed, wrapped up in his smartphone.

Apple generally advertises in a world where competitors don’t exist. It’s a winning strategy that tends to pull in more customers for fewer dollars. Asymco has done some work comparing Apple’s marketing spend versus Samsung’s and found the former is quite a bit more effective than the latter. But in the long game, Apple’s strategy is more important than the short-term numbers would even indicate. People’s powerful association with the Apple brand allows the company to not only charge more for some products but also to automatically succeed (to a point) with new product offerings because the faithful assume anything new from the company is designed for them.

Personally I recently returned to the iPhone 5s, a decision I didn’t take lightly as a hardcore Android fanboy. Just weeks into my return I can say I have fallen in love with the device, and the Apple release of ‘Misunderstood’ has taken that love to new heights. For those that know my thoughts on technology, you’d appreciate my love of messages that bring to life the humane brilliance that technology enables. Whether its emotion, connection or productivity, technology alone is not enough when making brilliant devices, a sentiment that runs strong in my new book, Mobile Ready. Specs, hardware and software don’t connect the masses to the reason why technology should be in their life, instead we all need a reason that has a deeper connection with us. The theories behind our humane needs aren’t new. In fact the most famous research in the space come from Maslow, a social psychologist from the last century.

Maslow wanted to understand what motivates people. He believed that individuals possess a set of motivation systems unrelated to rewards or unconscious desires. Maslow (1943) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled a person seeks to fulfil the next one, and so on. The earliest and most widespread version of Maslow’s (1943, 1954) hierarchy of needs includes five motivational needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. These deep understands of what motivates us to become us, is a key enabler for understanding why anything should exist in our lives. By understanding these, and expressing them in a commercial delicately targeted at such an emotional time of year, Apple is flexing is mojo and showing the world why they are an innovation leader.

The commercial inspired me this festive season, enough for me to make the bold attempt to create my own iPhone 5s holiday video. It’s no where near at polished as Apple’s, but is does have a common ingredient heart.

Happy Holidays

© Scott Bales 2014. All Rights Reserved.