Apple ad – brilliant example of “show” not “tell”


In a former life, I studied literature and creative writing, so it’s no surprise the mantra “show don’t tell” is one that will forever ring in my ears.  When I see something like Apple’s holiday TV ad, I am impressed to see someone get it so right.  Let’s see what Apple did here, and what lessons can be learned.


First, let’s look at some headlines regarding youth and technology:


Connected, but alone?

Is Technology Creating a Family Divide?

How Technology Is Killing Eye Contact

Antisocial Networking?

Obesity Among Kids – A Media Problem?

When Bullying Goes High-Tech


I will not debate the merits or dangers of technology for kids in this post, I just want to identify a problem that confronts technology companies.  As we roar into the gift-buying season, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles might recall articles like these and choose to encourage more “healthy” habits in the children they love and steer clear of buying phones or tablets or computers.  This problem is not product specific; for companies like Apple, fear of technology can impact every product produced.


In light of this, they need to communicate to present-buying adults that technology is not the dangerous, isolating demon it’s sometimes made out to be.  The question is how best to communicate this message.  They could highlight the features of various devices and list the ways that kids can use these to connect with family and friends.  They could cite statistics that support the ways in which technology aids literacy and learning.  Instead, Apple did this:



There is no “telling” in this ad; it’s all showing. The young man seems to be absorbed with his device and disengaged from his family, but the viewer is not “reading” him correctly. This is revealed when he shares a touching movie that captures the fun and love and tenderness of his family’s holiday celebration. Technology helps the boy show his family what he can’t tell them – that he “sees” them, that he treasures them, that he loves them. And as the viewer is awash in the glow of a very real-feeling family moment, the Apple logo is briefly presented. While what we see is one instance – one story, the implicit arguments here are general ones: technology is good for young people; it’s good for families; it makes people feel happy; it brings people together; if you want to bring this kind of joy to your family, buy an Apple device.


As your nonprofit organization puts together last minute appeals for 2013 and looks ahead to a new year of fundraising, think about how you can “show” the impact of your work in order to engage your constituents and inspire them to lend support.  Think about the real people you touch.  Think about your story.  Make it emotional.  If Apple can do it to sell tablets and laptops, you can do it to support your mission.