Apple iPod Silhouette Advert and Pop Art
First released onto the public in 2003, the eye-catching broadcasts aimed to promote Apple’s various MP3 players, “iPods”, as the ultimate ‘fun’ way to enjoy your music. Energetic, youthful and bold, they would go on to be a defining factor of the modern iPod’s success. But what is behind their success? The brilliant design, obviously, but where did it come from? It was undoubtedly very original and triggered a whole new branding aspect for Apple. It’s relationship with Pop art, artists Patrick Caulfield and Ed Ruscha in particular, is what I will be evaluating in this paper.
The iconic Ads
They consist of black silhouetted people dancing to up-beat music from their iPods in front of a brightly coloured background. An iPod and matching Apple headphones is always clearly displayed, not only due to the characters holding them in view, but as they are drawn in a very contrasting stark white.
With assistance from Lee Clow and James Vincent, Susan Alinsangan came up with the idea for the adverts in 2003 under the famous agency of Chiat /Day. According to rumour, the CEO of Apple at the time, Steve Jobs, strongly disliked the ad stating “It’s not Apple”. With heaps of foresight, that’s a very ironic statement now. Seeing as they not only became a definitive of how successful the current iPods would get, but also how categorical the adverts would become for the future of the product.
The design is extremely bold. The background colours are all bright and vivid but never more than one hue at a time. This really accentuates the black and white of the character and iPod, while keeping the theme brilliantly simple and clean. This is a far stretch from the majority of adverts on TV at the time, let alone Apple’s past attempts. Extremely alive and full of energy they did their job extremely well, without doubt contributing hugely to the iPod’s modern day dominance of the market.
So, the visuals on their own would be enough to catch attention and keep it, however they had something else up their sleeve. In my opinion, the most important part. The music. Each new addition of the advert featured an extremely up-beat, fun track which correlated with the silhouette dance. The songs would lift moods, make the audience want to dance along, sing along. Most of all they made you want an iPod. You wanted to be a part of that fun.
The campaign also used printed posters and billboards as part of the advertisements. These physical versions are effectively still frames of the animated TV ads, while not a literal frame taken from them, they look exactly the same and are obviously a part of the exact same promotion. One difference between them is these posters featured the iPod logo along with one of the few slogans correlating with the ad, in a contrasting white to match the iPod.
Say the words Pop Art to the average person and they’ll most probably think of a simple pallet of colours, clean lines, and bold modern design. Sound familiar? Obviously this cannot describe all Pop Art concepts, or even the majority of them, but it does well to give a general basic idea. Pop Art is more about the ideas than the aesthetic values, which admittedly does contradict my use of it as an inspiration slightly, however I still feel it is a valid point. Pop art could be considered (Essential History of Art 2000) “a vast celebration of popular culture” which I agree with. A combination of many aspects of fashionable and modern life which is genuinely deemed ‘cool’ by the exact audience it has taken inspiration from. Apple’s campaign would fit under this tagline perfectly.
I actually have chosen two artists who I feel would have been influences upon Lee Clow and co. They are Patrick Caulfield and Ed Ruscha. The two styles of these artists do seem familiar in part to the iPod adverts. However, my decision to use both artists is because I feel their individual idiosyncrasies don’t fully show their impact on the ads until combined together. Along with the general characteristics of Pop Art, including the colours and bold design, these two artists really create a style very relatable to the iPod adverts.
Ed Ruscha has a range of pieces of similar style which I am looking at in particular. One such work is titled ‘Mad Scientist’ (1975). Text spelling out the title is displayed in a bold, off-white sans serif font. All of the compositions in this range use the same typeface, if not one extremely similar. The background consists of nothing but a husky myriad of colours, almost like smoke hanging in the air behind the words. It has a very peaceful aura to it, quite ironic considering the chaos you’d expect from the name. Though the mix of colours and smoky ambience do well to remedy that, looking like an experiment gone wrong (or very well).
The simple shape (the text in this example) on top of a coloured background is obviously the main reason why I see these pieces as a possible influence, as it is extremely similar to the Apple adverts, but there are some underlying connections past the pure aesthetics. Ruscha’s work is often a comment on the current situations of when it was created, ‘Mad Scientist’ in particular.
Finished in 1975, it is possible the pastel and graphite piece could “refer to the progress and experiments taking place in science in America during the 1960s and 1970s” (Tate 2010). While this is quite a deep and serious context, it appeals to the modernity and the iPod advert’s attempt at applying itself to an up to date audience. This is even more effective when another possible reference is considered. The emergence of the ‘mad scientist’ in Hollywood Sci-Fi and B-movies at the time. The almost psychedelic colours suit the theme well; at the time, it would have been very relevant and attracted the attention of the young and modern audience, even if it was being ironic.
'Mad Sicentist's' audience is very different to Apple's, an age gap of 28 years, but both pieces aimed for the same goal. Attain the appreciation of the young, stylish population. Ruscha was not selling to that audience, unlike Apple, but his work is still well within pop culture.
“I was aiming at reducing the means by which one described things” (Patrcik Caulfield, The Impact of Modern Paints, 2000). Continuing the theme, this is a quote by Caulfield that relates very well to Apple’s products as a whole. Their products, along with media such as adverts, are all incredibly simple and clean. Each one could be described in similar ways; modern, sleek, pure. The list goes on.
Caulfield actually disliked his relationship with Pop Art. He prefers the idea that he created his own unique style and wishes to not be placed under the genre. (bbc.co.uk, 2014) I would tend to agree with him, as his work does not often have any underlying messages about the world at the time and commercialisation that seems to be the main feature of many Pop Art pieces. To me, it feels like he made paintings and screenprints for fun, of subjects he wanted to, not because he wanted to send a message.
Pop Art or not, I’m a huge fan of his style, with the clean lines and bold, contrasting colours. The subjects, mostly still life, are often very obscure but work so well. ‘Thus, she would come, escaped, half-dead to my door’ (1973) for example, is one of his screenprints displaying a section of a coat hanger. An incredibly simple and abstract subject displayed in an incredibly simple and not-so-abstract way, yet it is so full of life and pleasing to look at. Again, the exact same description could be given to not only Apple’s iPod adverts, but their whole range of products.
So, has Pop Art influenced the adverts?
In conclusion, the aesthetic values of pop art, certain artists in particular, have most definitely had an impact on the iPod adverts. They both feature strong colours and well-defined shapes and are often very flamboyant, shown particularly well in Patrick Caulfields work. Sharing a similar energy and being so in-tune with ‘now’. However, the intended messages of Pop Art as a whole, are actually very much against the idea of Apple. The idea that everyone is being made the same by commercialisation. Despite that, I still find Pop Art to be a very prominent feature of the iPod’s advertising. Because the adverts are aimed at so many different audiences of music taste, they do break that barrier. You get the feeling that the campaign is keeping the essence of ‘being yourself’, just that you can do it all within one device. An iPod.
Hawksley, L. Cunningham, A. Payne, L. Bradbury, K. (2000). Essential History of Art. Bath: Parragon. 237.
Jo Crook and Tom Learner (2000). The Impact of Modern Paints. London: Tate Gallery Publishing Ltd.
Ad Madness (2010) The Distinctive iPod Advertising Campaign
[Accessed 18 February 2014]
Tate (2010) Edward Ruscha ‘MAD SCIENTIST’
[Accessed 23 February 2014]
Tate (2010) Edward Ruscha ‘MAD SCIENTIST’ image
[Accessed 23 February 2014]
BBC (2014) Patrick Caulfield
[Accessed 23 February 2014]
Tate (2010) Patrick Caulfield ‘Thus she would come, escaped, half-dead to my door’
[Accessed 23 February 2014]