Did Apple’s Latest Ad Hit the Wrong Note?

By Sentient
May 15, 2024

Apple’s most recent advertisement, “Crush!” intended to demonstrate the numerous ways consumers could use the new iPad Pro, hoping to show the enormous breadth of traditional creative tools the tech company has embedded within the product’s thin frame. Based on the spirited social media comments unleashed within minutes of the ad’s release, Apple may have misjudged its strategy when it literalized this product claim. Actually compressing all these artistic tools under a looming hydraulic press offended more people than it inspired. Many creatives were outspoken in their criticisms, venting their disapproval on social media. For some, the physical destruction of materials and instruments painfully mirrored ongoing society-wide trends in automation and artificial intelligence that threaten to devalue and destroy the arts in wider social and professional spheres. Less than a week after considerable backlash, Apple issued an apology and canceled its plans to air the ad on television.

Was this response justified or premature? Sentient sought to understand how this supposed marketing misstep impacted Apple, and whether media coverage accurately reflected the ad’s performance. Using our RAPID Subtext ad testing tool, we uncovered the audience’s real-time emotional response to “Crush!” and how their implicit attitudes toward Apple changed.

Our Findings

The results from RAPID were telling. Overall, the performance of “Crush!” is middling. While the creative is visually slick and polished and the licensed music is apropos, the spot lacks narrative. It doesn’t show the audience how the new iPad empowers their creative endeavors. It doesn’t dramatize the creative impulse at all. Without that human element, viewers can’t contextualize why Apple is crushing these objects.

Fairly reasonably, creative people saw this gap of context and inferred a meaning for this spot; that your love of traditional creative tools has no value. Who can fault them for feeling this way? Imagine that painter who spent their childhood lacking for art supplies—even the cheapest tools—who walked the aisles of stores becoming increasingly dejected as the cost of brushes, paper, canvas and paints drove up an unsurmountable running tally in their minds. Imagine the pianist who had to save enough money—a sum substantial enough to buy a quality used car—in order to afford an instrument worthy of their talents. “Crush!” is incredibly blase toward this profound bond between artists and their tools.

The frustrations, the social media fervor around this, is the amplified voice of a minority of people who saw this ad.


– Jeremiah Messer, Insights Director at Sentient Decision Science

Fortunately for Apple, the majority of viewers seem largely unbothered. They don’t care about the destructive nature of the ad. In fact, they may not even want to sit through the entirety of it because of their low Emotional Engagement. This, again, is likely due to the lack of narrative justification. The ad gives the audience no reason to care about the impending destruction. This is particularly clear in the first twelve seconds, where Emotional Engagement is low and Valence wavers around neutral, clear evidence that the average viewer finds the ad boring. Later, negative emotions like disgust drive Engagement. Video 2 below highlights this. Disgust noticeably increases during the shots where the hydraulic press squishes the bust and emoji balls. These are the moments that evoke the greatest tension for the audience. Then the reveal of Apple’s new product relieves that tension, leading to a slight uptick in positive emotion. But none of these moments do enough to compensate for early scenes when emotions were far more muted.

However, the ad does more for the brand than critics give it credit for. If you can get the audience to sit through the ad, “Crush!”  positively influences perceptions of the Apple brand. After a single ad exposure, Implicit Appeal for Apple lifted by six points, a statistically significant improvement. While the content is controversial, it communicates a consistent message about Apple as an industry-leader and premium brand. It has polished aesthetics that are consistent with Apple’s prevailing design philosophy. Those whose Appeal for the brand increases are receptive to Apple’s concept and respond positively to Apple owning the ad’s moment of relief. If Apple had optimized their creative to better connect with consumers, “Crush!” could have been a success.

To learn more about how our Emotion AI technology can help you avoid brand damage and improve marketing communications, contact us and demo the platform.

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