Apple’s ‘Misunderstood’ Christmas ad celebrates holiday iPhone zombies

“This week, a woman checking Facebook on her smartphone plunged off a pier in Melbourne. Last year a woman fell into Lake Michigan while texting. A Texas man drove off a bridge and nearly died shortly after sending a text saying, ‘I need to quit texting,'” Kyle Smith reports for The New York Post. “An Ohio State University study recently found 1,500 people were treated in nearby emergency rooms for cell phone-related injuries in a year, a tripling from previous years. In Seattle, researchers found that texters were four times as likely to disregard traffic signals while crossing streets.”

“All of this is less disturbing than the probability that our smart phones, these magical gizmos of connectedness, are turning us into disconnected loners untethered to reality,” Smith writes. “Apple knows it has turned us into iZombies, and has become defensive about it, releasing its own little movie arguing that there’s some upside to this depressing new reality.”

“The weird loner, the emotionless little gadget monkey who never talks to anyone, is actually a proto-Spielberg who loves his family and is destined to warm hearts by the millions,” Smith writes. “Apple’s intended message is that if you get an iPhone, you’ll be more in the moment, more in harmony with your surroundings, more lovingly connected than ever before. In the history of nice tries, this one has to rank just below the mid-century effort by the tobacco industry to assuage fears about the safety of its products: One ad declared, ‘More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!'”

Smith writes, “As pitches go, “Buy an iPhone in order to get in touch with loved ones sitting on the couch next to you” makes about as much sense as teaching the world to sing by buying it a Coke… Moreover, the “Misunderstood” spot is a nonsequitur: Chances are the kid at your family gathering who is fixated on his iPhone is watching a video or texting peers about how lame you are or playing Candy Crush Saga, not making a movie about his vast love for family. There is no twist in real life: Most iZombies actually are oblivious to their surroundings.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The amount of buzz (good or bad, people are talking) this spot has generated puts it in a very special league. This is Apple’s first real grand slam of an ad since the ‘Get a Mac’ (Mac vs. PC) campaign and it proves that Apple and their ad agency actually can execute world-class marketing in the post-Steve Jobs era (which, not so long ago, was seriously in doubt). That alone is the single most important fact delivered by this spot.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Lynn Weiler” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
Misunderstood: Apple thinks different for Christmas – December 20, 2013
Love it or hate it, Apple’s new Christmas spot normalizes the glow – December 18, 2013
Apple’s ‘Misunderstood’ Christmas ad is a sad commentary on culture and does Apple no favors – December 17, 2013
Apple debuts touching new ‘Happy Holidays’ TV ad (with video) – December 16, 2013


  1. At first I agreed with the negative responses – but if ANYONE will watch those mesmerized by their smart phones – which is MANY. It IS a loner kid reaching out – have WE become a LONER WORLD. I hope not.

  2. A famous quote is no less relevant today than it was decades ago when first said:

    “I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right [sic]”

    Often attributed to P.T. Barnum, Mae West, Oscar Wilde and a few others, it paraphrases the other two (“Any publicity is good publicity”, or “The only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about”).

    While some in the PR business claim that the statement is now less true than it once was, there is no doubt that it still remains very real and accurate.

    The debate about the “misunderstood” teenager only elevates the importance of Apple in the populace’s mindset.

    1. Exactly. In case people didn’t notice, the kid was sledding with his family, building a snowman, doing snow angels, hanging out with them in the kitchen and living rooms. In the commercial the clips are him using the iPhone, which was necessary to show he was actually videoing his family to produce the movie.

      1. Exactly right. As I commented on a previous thread on this subject, great mini-movie ad… just my take, but in the little movie the kid made he showed himself in several shots participating in the day’s activities… playing in the snow, fooling around with his grand dad, being with his grandmother who was baking… it’s not as if he was lost in some alternate universe. In fact, this might suggest that he actually was observing much closer and deeply all the activities of his loved ones, whom he clearly has a great deal of affection for. I envy that kid having access to that technology I only wish I had when I was his age… my memories would be so much more enhanced because I could share them at this point in my life with my kids. The quiet documentarians of this world are the true preservers of our communal memories.
        Great job, Apple.

    2. He was overly attached to it in the beginning of the ad, just like so many of the students at the high school where I work. They truly do use it to hide from the real world. A dozen times a day, I hear the good old “I need to have my music on to concentrate” I suppose it is theoretically possible for some, (very few) because in spite of a couple of studies purporting to show that listening to music in class causes no harm or even helps, it does not show up in the quality of the work. In my experience, they are always on the low side of the curve when it comes to turning in quality work.

      Having said that: look at how the ad progresses. At the beginning he is in his fantasy electronic world that so many live in today, but through the ad you can see him coming back to the real world, evidence being the video he produces.

      Good ad, Apple is saying to us: use the computers and the phone, but there is a time to shut them off and spend time in the real world, otherwise you will miss the good parts of it.

  3. See the movie Pecker and substitute the iPhone for the camera. The ad shows off slo-mo, video editing and wifi transmission from the 5S to an HDTV via Apple TV.

    Newflash to butthead author – our family Facetimes at Xmas because we cannot all be together every year. Our youngest sister in Seattle got engaged on Xmas and we were there via FaceTime in New York, so STFU to the author of this stupid, vapid article that totally misses the mark.

  4. Thanks for proving the point of the title of the ad, Kyle Smith who reports for The New York Post.

    The ad shows a kid with an entirely different, positive personality and point of view about getting together for a family christmas. He’s not into the relational schmoozing stuff the Kyle Smiths of the world consider the only ‘normal’ behavior acceptable. No, this misunderstood kid is the one person in the family smart enough and interested enough in documenting the event and putting it into a finished video that the entire family will be watching over and over for every Christmas thereafter. This kid is a producer. He makes things. He actually thinks MORE about social events and how other people feel than the demanding relational folks in the family.

    He is the artist. He is the inventor. He is the one who records the present and creates the future. He is not a schmoozer. Deal with it and appreciate it.

    1. Well said, Derek.

      He’s also not driving while texting, which the article tried to equate to this young man’s activities in triplet.

      It’s almost comical that pundits are analyzing the commercial as if it were a real family rather than just an ad. I always enjoyed the “Teach the world to sing” commercials, but I never believed the actors were anything more than paid actors pretending to be best friends on a sunny day!

    2. The ad reminded me of the many dads who, in the 50’s, recorded home movies using the latest tech of the time – the 8mm video camera. Using the logic that this kid is disconnected from the family is the same as saying dad was not part of those events either.

      My take on the ad is Apple believes family is important. This is an extension of Tim Cook’s messages to employees.

      I can’t help but wonder what the take would be if another logo was at the end.

      1. I have a disconnecting nephew and niece, whom I will be seeing next week. The phenomenon is real! In Japan it has become infamous among the youth, called something to the effect of ‘Celibacy Syndrome’ whereby even relational contact is shunned.

        Thankfully that is NOT what is portrayed in the ‘Misunderstood’ ad, showing Apple’s incredible insight that what appears to be ‘disconnect’ can in fact be the exact OPPOSITE.

  5. After watching the ad several times I enjoy watching the boy smile and subtly interact with those around him where he seems distant on initial viewings.
    Those couple of smiles and looks is just enough to make me not see him as a hooked loner device owner, but any kid who values those around him.

  6. To bad some right-wingers will see this as a companion ad to the infamous “Pajama Boy” ad for Obamacare. So many people in my generation are essentially asking for it though. Many people at the college I go to still play with Pokemon cards (the original 1998 edition) and many still talk about classic 1980s/1990s cartoons such as Rugrats and Ren and Stimpy. While I agree that those decades are much better than what we have now, we still have to understand we live in a different era, and there is nothing we can do about it. I bought my first Mac for my freshman year of college on 9/11, and the first thing I did was email my friends and family who were living in NYC. A 20-something today would not do such a thing…just listen to dubstep or watch dirty movies all day. Sad how far we went downhill since that fateful day…

  7. The “social zombie” (officially known as “Misunderstood”) commercial caught my attention (in a negative way). I am surprised Apple produced it. They’ve made far better iPhone commercials before. I am especially fond of their “Photos Every Day” (Youtube link), which I think is among the best they’ve ever done.

    But “Misunderstood” misses the mark. Throughout the commercial the first time I watched it, I was thinking the kid was tuned out, not “into the moment,” and missing out. Only at the end is it made clear that his apparent detachment was for a reason: he produced a “warmth of family” video that got the whole family in a Kumbaya mood and made him the center of attention rather than a misunderstood outlier.

    Disclaimer (before the orange robed Mac faithful passing out flowers in the airport feint dead away and assail me for criticizing All That Is Holy and Good). I’ve used Macs since they came out in 1984. I’m just saying this ad blows.

    1. I disagree with your analysis. The kid appears “tuned out”, but the entire point of the commercial is that an iPhone can be used to document important family moments, create a heartwarming movie, and show how much you love your family. The clips in the commercial where he appears “tuned out” are where he is recording video, and he obviously planned this well in advance (since he took video as he left the car upon arrival).

      The whole point of the video is that teenagers love their families too, and the iPhone can be used to bring families closer together.

    2. I would argue that the fact you are writing about it implies the ad is incredibly effective. Even in your case where you don’t like the message of the ad it’s not going to harm your buying intentions Apple-wise so what’s the downside?

  8. To an extent, a lot of the stuff written about this ad is because people need something to write about.

    It’s a 90 second ad.
    The first half is the bit where he was secretly filming it, and the second half is bits of the video and the reaction of his family.
    The ad is not an in depth study of family life.

    The video he makes is 2 minutes long, and we see about 30 seconds of it.
    In that 30 seconds there are 3 shots of him filming himself, two of which have other family members clearly in shot and aware he was filming.
    He is clearly actively participating in the activities, specifically sledging and baking/cooking.
    He smiles when his Grandfather (I assume) hugs him at 15 seconds, when the mitten is thrown to him, when sledging, when baking, then at the end of the video.
    He is thoughtful enough to take the hand of a young family member.
    He is a teenage boy, an age group and sex who universally find it hard to display emotion, yet he spent the time thinking about something he could do that his family would love. He didn’t just mindlessly spend money on meaningless gifts. Yes, there were occasions when he was separate, but teenagers are like that, plus he only had that day and night to put the thing together. He could hardly film it months in advance.
    The point of the ad is that teenagers are awkward and perhaps withdrawn, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care, that they’re not interested. The iPhone is a tool than enabled this boy to express himself.

    Finally, it’s an ad. Don’t over analyse it because it’s not that important.

  9. If you watch this ad a few times you can see that in each carefully chosen and edited shot, there is a element of each shot in his final piece…then the music stops….and the song begins…and it’s absolutely brilliant with each shot a classic “wish this was my family” and “I’d be proud to share even that single moment with my family” shot in the sequence. This is brilliant, brilliant, advertising, marketing, filmmaking…and points to Apple’s grasp of its place in people’s lives in a way that Samsung, LG, Nokia, or Microsoft will NEVER be.

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