Walt Whitman

Apple's newest, most 'poetic' TV spot: What the critics are saying

January 13, 2014: 10:53 AM ET

Robin Williams. Walt Whitman. Dead poets. The iPad Air.

Click to watch video.

Click to watch video.

FORTUNE -- Considering the risks Apple (AAPL) took on prime time TV Sunday night -- feeding 19th century American transcendental poetry to beer-loving football fans and celebrity-hungry Golden Globe viewers -- the initial reaction on Twitter to the company's new 90-second iPad Air ad was relatively snark-free. Even some of the journalists paid to find fault eventually came around.

A sampling of the critical reactions:

John Paczkowski, Re/code: A Whitman Sampler? "Like many of Apple's ads, the spot is typically over-reaching, bordering on hyperbolic (recall another iconic Apple advertisement that also debuted during a big football game). But it's also effective and pretty powerful. It's hard to look at all these various iPad use cases and not conclude that the iPad and other devices like it are having a transformative effect on our culture. Certainly, that's the argument Apple is making here."

Rene Ritchie, iMore: Poetic new iPad Air campaign. "It's beautifully shot and gorgeously produced. Depending on how you feel about Apple, and about advertising, you could see it as following in the same tradition as the "Think different" campaigns "here's to the crazy ones" and of the iPad 2's "Technology alone is not enough", full of bold, provocative, inspiring images and jargon. Or you could see it as over the top and out of touch. It's going to take me a few more viewings to figure out how I feel about it."

Jay Yarow, Business Insider: A new, super serious ad. "It's pretty good at showing how the iPad is changing the world, but personally, I think it's a little overdone. Update: Upon a second, third viewing I'm changing my mind. I like it more, it stands out from the crowd. Not sure how it will resonate with everyone else, but I like it now."

Darrell Etherington, TechCrunch: Apple gets serious. "'The message is not only that the iPad is capable of true creativity, but also that it's an aspirational device: This is a lifestyle ad akin to the kind of thing you see from Lexus and other high-end car manufacturers, and that's a good marketing strategy for the iPad in terms of capitalizing on Apple's brand cachet."

Chris Matyszczyk, CNET: Apple brilliantly waxes poetic. "In a new ad for its freshly-created Age of Enlightenment Party -- I'm sorry, I meant the iPad Air -- Apple wants you to feel that its gadget isn't a gadget. It's a tool to a dream."

Jason D. O'Grady, ZDNET: Tugs on the heartstrings. "It's a common practice for a market leader to evoke emotion ("poetry, beauty, romance, love") and focus on brand-building in its advertising and avoid mentioning the competition by name... Coca Cola is a classic example of emotional brand building. Its ads focus on evokative messages like "Buy the world a Coke," while second place products (like Pepsi) will do draw direct comparisons to Coke with 'The Pepsi Challenge.'"

Kwame Opam, The Verge: Apple mines Dead Poets Society. '"By now, there's no question that the Air is a great product, but Apple is intent on getting people to imagine taking it on some adventures."

Daniel Eran Dilger, AppleInsider: Highlighting real users' stories. "The new ad and web page depict real users, not imagined ones. That's relatively easy for Apple to do because iPad and its iOS platform is actually being used around the world by tens of millions of real people to do real tasks. In stark contrast,... Google has to invent users because it's not actually selling its Nexus tablets to a broad audience."

Yoni Heisler, TUAW: Dead Poets Society-inspired iPad Air. "Apple, I think, has really been killing it commercial-wise in recent months. This new ad is an absolute home run."

For more information about the uses of the iPad portrayed in the ad, Apple has posted links on its home page.

Here's the copy, from Robin Williams' 1989 performance in Dead Poets Society:

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?  (Click for YouTube link to the scene.)

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