Apple’s 2023 Christmas advert was hailed as a masterclass in getting the seasonal zeitgeist, but how does it rank in the tech giant’s creative oeuvre?
From the Steve Job’s era when Apple craved market share through its polarity with Microsoft, to the modern era in which the brand has softened its rhetoric to focus on lifestyle positioning, the adverts from the world’s largest technology brand are a masterclass in messaging.
Join us as we take a deep bite into Apple’s commercial history...
High Technology, Inc., 1977
Regarded as the inaugural Apple advert, High Technology, Inc. created this classic, marking the first appearance of an Apple product on screens. Laden with a 70s-style 'beep boop' soundtrack, the ad highlights the Apple II's capabilities amid subliminal apple flashes.
What’s notable about the ad, besides its torturous voiceover, is the parallels with Apple’s 21st century ‘there’s an app for that’ messaging, with the ad appealing to the product’s multiple uses for all the family.
Two Kinds of People, 1983
Featuring Kevin Costner and the Apple Lisa computer, this ad exemplifies Apple's marketing strategy of division and celebrity. Setting the stage for future tactics, it introduces the tagline, "Soon, there will be just two kinds of people. Those that use computers, and those that use Apples."
The star appeal of this very ‘80s’ advert echoes the Apple we know now, but it’s interesting to note the early buttoned-down, laid-back vibe that would go on to not only define Steve Job’s unfussy stylings, but influence a generation of tech bros to come.
Directed by Ridley Scott, this iconic 1984 Super Bowl ad showcases an unnamed heroine challenging dystopian conformity, aligning with Apple's theme of empowerment. It stands as one of the most famous ads ever, reinforcing Apple's commitment to breaking free from the norm.
Apple's board of directors labelled the advert "the worst commercial they had ever seen," according to Walter Isaacson. However, the advert made it onto all time great lists everywhere, and Apple went on to sell 72,000 computers in 100 days, twice as many as had been anticipated, according to Forbes.
Although heavy-handed, 1984 was the company’s boldest statement yet about its ethos to standout, be an individual, and to ‘Think Different’ (a tagline not used until 1997).
Pencil Test, 1988
In collaboration with Pixar, Apple presented Pencil Test, a short film demonstrating the animation software on the Apple Macintosh II. This partnership occurred after Steve Jobs acquired Pixar Animation Studios, raising the question of whether Pencil Test was the precursor to beloved Pixar Shorts.
While not the animation studio’s most awe inspiring work, it’s interesting to see Pixar’s playful DNA throughout the campaign, which was an impressive achievement for the time. Noteworthy too, is Apple’s omnipresent insistence on simplicity of design and approachability.
Exemplifying Apple's division tactics, this ad humorously highlights the frustrations some had with Microsoft’s Windows operating system, as a dad struggles to showcase dinosaurs to his son. The punchline? The child promptly leaves for a friend's house because, you’ve guessed it, they have a Mac.
It’s amusing to look back at this prime example of early-90s cattiness that would go on to define a decade in which Apple and Microsoft battled it out for geek supremacy. Here, Apple positions itself squarely as the choice of the new generation, while the jazzy, upbeat soundtrack foreshadows the brand’s breezy, coffee shop-friendly leanings that typified its 2000s approach.
Think Different, 1997
Marking Steve Jobs' return, this 1997 ad features historical thinkers like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Einstein. It asserts that creative minds change the world, aligning Apple's products with those who dare to think differently.
What’s most impressive about this offering is that it was pulled off without a sense of ‘brand stretch’. Very few companies should attempt this sort of highbrow messaging, but Apple had earned its visionary reputation by this point, and it’s all the more poignant today in light of Steve Jobs’s passing.
The silhouette ads, a pinnacle of iPod advertising in the early 2000s, featured vibrant visuals and upbeat songs from Apple’s iTunes store. The campaign, running until 2005, promoted various iPod models, becoming a cultural phenomenon.
The advert plays on the brand’s youthful image, with the silhouette imagery inviting viewers to position themselves as part of the brand. It’s also remarkable how fresh the advert looks today.
There’s An App For That, 2009
Launching the iPhone campaign with the slogan "There's an app for that," Apple emphasizes the iPhone's multifunctionality. This campaign signals the iPhone's evolution beyond a phone into a versatile tool for various tasks.
While not a remarkable advert, the lead slogan slid into the public consciousness effortlessly. Conceptually, the advert is in keeping with Apple’s trademark, stripped back product presentations.
Romeo and Juliet, 2016
This emotional ad for the iPhone 7 showcases a school play through a father's eyes, emphasizing the phone's superior camera quality. Apple continues to assert that the iPhone is more than just a phone.
The advert uses a narrative twist similar to that seen in Apple’s 2023 Christmas advert, revealing the user behind the art, and focusing on technology’s place in creating magical moments.
Premiered at WWDC21, Whodunnit showcases the iPhone 13's cinematic mode, shot entirely on the device. The ad draws inspiration from the font of the 2019 film Knives Out, appealing to aspiring filmmakers.
The advert is notable for its lack of famous celebrities, prompting the viewer to instead focus instead on what they might achieve using the iPhone 13 Pro. The advert is an important marker in how far filmmaking technology has come.
Fuzzy Feelings, 2023
And finally, Apple’s 2023 Christmas offering: a meta take on the creative and moral struggle to find meaning in this season, is deserving in any list of its greatest adverts.
Directed by Emmy Award winner Lucia Aniello (known for her work on ‘Hacks’) and stop-motion expert Anna Mantzaris, Apple’s Christmas Advert 2023 begins by playing with audience expectations that the commercial will be a traditional Christmas stop-motion animation, before panning to the animator behind the production, who is filming her work via Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro Max and MacBook Air: the very products the actual advert was filmed and produced on.
Apple’s offering once again draws on the technology itself being used and seems oddly targeted at Creative Moment’s readers, with references to advert production and the creative process. It will be remembered for its classy storytelling, however.
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