This Apple Ad is Infuriating People with Three Little Words: “What’s a Computer?”

Katie Schieder
Katie Schieder Director of Inbound Marketing & Content

Have You Seen Apple’s Most Recent Ad?

Apple started running a new ad on television in November. The ad, which is roughly a minute in length, features a girl that appears to be between the ages of 12 and 14. She’s riding her bike around one of the New York city boroughs, visiting with friends, and experiencing different parts of the city all while using her iPad. Apple shows the young girl using the iPad to chat with friends, take photos, do homework, draw pictures, read comic books, all while on the go. This is all fine. We get it, Apple, you can do a million amazing things with an iPad and you can do it all from anywhere. Great, clearly your product is amazing – no one will deny that.

Here’s the rub. The commercial ends with this exchange between the young girl and her next-door neighbor:

Neighbor: “Whatcha doing on your computer?”

Young girl: “What’s a computer?”

Those last three words are enraging viewers. Here, watch the commercial to see for yourself.

The commercial ends and most people are left wondering not, how quickly can I order an iPad and have it arrive, but, “how does this girl not know what a computer is?”

This small comment is making a lot of people angry, and it’s completely changing the narrative. People are no longer talking about the multiple features of the iPad, and are instead consumed with the thought that his young girl does not know the meaning of the word computer.

Why Did Apple Do This?

According to Business Insider, there are two theories as to why Apple included this phrase in their commercial:

The first theory is that the commercial is supposed to be set in the future, when technology is so advanced that we no longer use an outdated word like computer. I don’t think this is true. If anything, the scenes in the commercial appear dated. I watch the commercial expecting the young girl to bump into the cast of Seinfeld or Sex in the City. It does not feel like a futuristic setting. But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend this commercial is set in the future. Is it realistic that the word computer would no longer be a recognizable part of our everyday lexicon? I doubt it. That’s like saying the words telephone, television, and internet are all unrecognizable just because tablets, cellphones, and Wi-Fi serve the same purpose.

The second theory is that this is a dig at Microsoft in response to CEO Satya Nadella’s comment “you need to get a real computer, my friend.” As a lover of reality television I appreciate a nice dig, but this doesn’t feel like one. If anything, it feels more like the young girl is taking a dig at the next-door neighbor, which could be another reason the commercial is rubbing people the wrong way. Many people watching this ad are the next-door neighbor.

The Language in Your Ad is Sometimes More Important Than the Ad Itself

This ad is an example of the importance of understanding your audience and choosing language that resonates with them. This ad does a great job of showcasing the many uses of the product, its’ versatility, as well as a direct need for students. The problem is that you don’t think about any of that once the ad is complete. Instead, you are left confused, and possibly angry, about that fact that this young girl does not know what a computer is. The narrative has changed from cutting edge tech, to how can this girl not know the thing that is still what nearly every student must use in school, what nearly every employee uses at work, what appears in nearly every television show and movie – shall we go on? – or that the iPad she is using is in fact a computer. It’s all most people on Twitter can talk about, just check out the hashtag #WhatsAComputer.

People Are Furious Over Apple's "What's a Computer?" Commercial

It’s vitally important to carefully analyze the language you are using in your campaigns, whether it’s TV, email, Google, or social. What may seem like a simple statement (that is meant to hammer home your belief in this “post-PC” world Apple itself coined) such as ‘what’s a computer,’ could derail the entire campaign. Now people are no longer talking about your product or service or the post-PC world you’re trying to usher in – they are talking about your company negatively and the phrase that made them feel that way.

This can be easily fixed, language quickly changed, if you are running a digital campaign. Even if you are not running a digital campaign, you can work to avoid issues like this by conducting tests and evaluating the ad from the audience’s point of view. This is also where keyword research and trends come into play. It helps educate you on how your customers use terminology, ask questions, and what they want to know. It’s the whole idea of “know the room” before making a comment. Apple very much did not know the room.

Something else you should consider? Does your language convey the message you think it does? This is most important when marketing in multiple languages or even multiple regions.

Better luck next time, Apple. Maybe you should go back to the dancing iPod commercials, people seemed to like them.