Apple gets crushing backlash to its 'gross' iPad ad from celebrities and artists

A controversial ad for Apple's latest iPad model has critics railing against the tech giant for what they say is a slight against artists and the creative community — a demographic once drawn to Apple products. (Apple/YouTube - image credit)
A controversial ad for Apple's latest iPad model has critics railing against the tech giant for what they say is a slight against artists and the creative community — a demographic once drawn to Apple products. (Apple/YouTube - image credit)

From its pop-art iPod commercials to its celebrity-led Mac vs. PC campaign, Apple hasn't had many marketing missteps to its name.

But a controversial ad for the company's latest iPad model has critics railing against the tech giant for what they say is a slight against artists and the creative community — a demographic once drawn to Apple products.

The ad, titled "Crush!", shows an array of creative objects — among them musical instruments, art sculptures, typewriters, a record table and a vintage arcade machine — being slowly pulverized by a hydraulic press.

(You know, the thing that David Letterman frequently used to crush bowling balls for fun. Similar videos now dominate TikTok feeds everywhere.)

Once the press has demolished the spread, it releases, and a glimmering new iPad appears, having replaced — or made obsolete — everything that came before it. All I Ever Need Is You by Sonny and Cher rings out.

WATCH | The Apple ad upsetting artists: 

The spot went viral as critics denounced its message. Some found it particularly hard to stomach the imagery of big tech crushing creative tools as artists grapple with the threats posed by artificial intelligence.

"This new ad by Apple perfectly depicts what Big Tech has sadly come to stand for: crushing human creativity in the name of technological innovation and selling it to us as progress," one X user wrote.

"It's tone-deaf at least, malicious at worst, in the current climate of [AI] replacing human arts."

Krista Ball, an author in Edmonton who is also an Apple shareholder, said she watched the commercial and had a "visceral, gross reaction — almost the same way as you feel when you see a political ad that's really gross."

"The iPad does not replace the tools of pen and paper," Ball said in an interview with CBC News. "Apple has always had this reputation of trying to work with art, to expand art, so to literally destroy art to say 'we're better,' that is not appealing to artists."

Apple has long been known for developing technology that complements creative work — ranging from user-friendly tools like iMovie and GarageBand for editing film and audio, to professional tools such as Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro.

In a social media post introducing the commercial, Apple CEO Tim Cook seemed to echo that message, writing of the new iPad, "Just imagine all the things it'll be used to create."

But British actor Hugh Grant saw things differently. "The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley," Grant wrote in response to Cook's post.  American actress Justine Bateman put it bluntly, asking Cook: "Truly, what is wrong with you?"

After two days of criticism, Apple reportedly apologized for the video, according to U.S. trade publications Ad Ageand VarietyCBC News has reached out to Apple to confirm the apology, but the company did not respond.

Recalls famous 1984 commercial

For many critics, the new Apple ad conjured unfavourable parallels to the tech company's famous 1984 ad by Blade Runner director Ridley Scott, which depicted a dystopian society ruled by a Big Brother-esque figure.

As the ruler speaks from a television to his entranced followers, a woman bounds toward the screen and smashes it with a sledgehammer.

"On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce MacIntosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984," a voiceover declared, referencing George Orwell's classic novel.

WATCH | Ridley Scott's classic 1984 Apple commercial: 

AnneMarie Dorland, an assistant professor of marketing at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said that the 1984 ad "taught people to feel that Apple was something rebellious."

The company's signature Mac Computer was "different than the status quo or what you expected or what you already had," she said.

That vision of a new world is still present in the latest commercial, Dorland said — but the messaging around the commercial, including its title "Crush!", was "perhaps a misguided way of talking about it."

It did bring attention to what would have otherwise been an underwhelming update to one of the company's flagship products, she added. "We're all still talking about the introduction of a slightly smaller iPad. So despite the controversy, it's working."

She noted that Apple just might be trying to reach a new audience "who are getting access to some level of joy and creativity for the first time with some of these tools. So you could really make the argument, maybe, that Apple is just going after a new generation."

Is Apple's reputation shifting?

Thom Binding, a marketing strategist in London, said he had a positive reaction to the ad — but noted that the wider negative reaction to  it speaks to how Apple's reputation has shifted.

"I think that in itself is quite alarming for Apple because they have shaped the brand around appealing to creatives," said Binding.

"Apple is sort of losing its relevance or its position within the culture and [with] creative people," Binding said. "And that's something that's happening right now. It's something that's been going on probably in the last 10 years."

He pointed to Apple's dominance in the tech industry and its recent run-ins with antitrust regulators, including a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice that accuses Apple of engineering a monopoly in the smartphone market.

"There is sort of an evolving sense that Apple's the bad guy, and it's not the friendly kind of creative, rebellious brand that we all remember it being," said Binding.