The Sunday Magazine: Apple iPhone 5s TV Commercial “Powerful”

In the day of the DVR we rarely have to watch a commercial, unless we want to. It takes a special bit of magic to get me to pay attention to that which I have become so accustomed to tuning out or fast forwarding through. Every now and then there is an advertisement which makes me look up, pay attention, and keep my finger off the double arrow to the right key on the remote. That it comes from Apple should be no surprise.

Apple has been making little attention getters for 30 years ever since the Ridley Scott directed commercial named “1984” debuted during the Super Bowl in January of 1984. As the iPod rose to prominence the songs chosen to go along with the day-glo silhouette graphics became instant hit makers for artists like Jet, The Fratellis, and Feist to name a few. Once you were in one of those commercials your rise on the charts was nearly assured. As iPad has become more prevalent there have been little tone poems of all the things you can do with it and the apps that run on it. For the most recent iPhone 5s commercial all of these are combined into one very memorable commercial which is named “Powerful”

The commercial begins with a few different musicians tuning up and getting ready to play all with an iPhone running an app in frame. After skipping around the bass player begins a familiar bass line and the rest of the musicians we see combine to start playing a version of The Pixies 1988 single “Gigantic” off the album Surfer Rosa. From there we see video gamers playing on their phone but projected gigantically. A father filming his son acting like Godzilla to his city of building blocks. A girl launching a fleet of model rockets and we end with a teacher showing a star map to her students and finishing with a graphic that says, “You’re more powerful than you think.”

This commercial succeeds for me on multiple levels. First it depicts the versatility of the iPhone as these devices we carry around in our pockets are able to do powerful things. The music chosen is familiar but not too familiar. Gigantic was never a chart hit failing to crack the top 40 at any time during its release. This is another thing that is interesting about this song choice. When I was listening to music at that time if The Pixies came on I was probably asked to change the channel away from that “noise”. Now in nostalgic hindsight The Pixies join The Ramones and Iggy Pop as musical acts that all of a sudden have the power to sell things thirty, or forty, years after they were making music. I know most of my contemporaries didn’t listen to any of these acts all of which were on many of my mix tapes so why this nostalgia sells things is fascinating to me. Finally as with the original “1984” ad “Powerful” has a great visual sense to itself from the musicians at the beginning to the people doing “big, big” things in the second half it forms an endearing whole. Really TV commercials just don’t get much better than this.

Mark Behnke

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