Parents and gadgets are frenemies at best, especially when it comes to their kids’ screen time. They want their kids to stay off gadgets but seek gadget-ary assistance when they need a “break” or distraction which happens more often than not these days. The new Apple holiday ad follows a similar storyline. But because it is Apple’s holiday ad, it has to be all warm and gooey and emotional and fuzzy and heartwarming and everything Apple’s holiday ad every year is. But is it Apple-y magical enough?

Three minutes of kids, mush and the iPad

“Holiday -The Surprise” is a three-minute ad and revolves around two sisters who are traveling across the country with their parents to celebrate Christmas with their maternal grandfather. As they start their journey and get in the car, the arguments begin. Who is going to sit on which side, who is touching whom, who is more annoying and to end the quarrel, their father does what any parent does to calm their kids down – hands them a gadget (an iPad, in this case) and asks them to watch a movie or play a game on it. The two girls get busy. When they reach the airport, general chaos again takes over. They board the flight and the mother asks the father to keep the iPad handy for the flight and hands it to the girls to keep them busy with the movies the father downloaded for them on it.

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They get to their grandfather’s house and while everyone is happy, things once again get a little chaotic without the iPad in the girls’ hands. After having dinner, their father again hands them the iPad before bed. As the girls are getting ready to sleep, they ask their mother if their grandfather is still sad. The mother answers in the affirmative. The next day before heading out, the mother again hands the girls the iPad and tells them to stay busy and not annoy their grandfather. The two sisters then go on about their day and do all kinds of things, from dressing the dog up in jewels to looking at old photographs and playing old video cassettes of their grandfather and grandmother at their wedding. At this stage, you realize that the mother of the girls and their grandfather are still grieving the loss of the girls’ grandmother.

Every time the girls get noisy, either one of their parents hands them the iPad. Then comes the night before Christmas. It is late but the two sisters are still on the iPad, and their father comes in and tells them to sleep. On Christmas morning, the girls make everyone gather around their grandfather, who is then handed their iPad. He turns it on and a video message appears, showing the story of their grandfather and grandmother: how they fell in love, got married, had two daughters and then how their mother fell in love with their father and had two “perfect” daughters. The video ends with a small clip of their grandmother waving with a text saying, “Nana might not be here” followed by a family picture with their grandmother edited into it and the family dog, with another text saying, “but we are all still together,” which moves the grandfather almost to tears. The ad ends with the visual of one of the sisters and a text on the screen saying “make someone’s holiday” followed by the Apple logo. There is mellow music in the background all throughout the ad – “Married Life” by Michael Giacchino from the film “Up.”

The iPad as a creative tool…and a child pacifier!

Traveling across the country with two young kids means a lot of disagreements, quarrels, and bickering. All of it spells only one thing: noise. And new-age parents handle these disturbances by handing their little ones gadgets. Apple has taken the same basic plot, and in the best Apple holiday ad tradition, the company has mush-ed it all up, and added holiday vibes to it.

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This year, Apple’s holiday ad is called “The Surprise.” But, ironically, the ad is actually very predictable, unlike last year, where Apple had gone all Pixar on us and had delivered a stunning ad (Share Your Gifts) which was not only aesthetically beautiful but also very magical in terms of storyline. This year’s holiday ad is a little different in that regard.

From the second you start watching the ad, you pretty much get to know how it is going to end or what’s coming – of course, the girls are going to do something for their grandad and the iPad will be involved in it. It is two young girls with an iPad in Apple’s holiday ad, there has to be a mushy result, which in this ad came in the form of a video message for their grieving family.

But there is no rule which says predictable cannot be good. Which is why “The Surprise” works. The ad has used a storyline that has been used time and again and there is no real surprise element in the ad. You literally know what the climax is going to be but Apple has picked out elements that work together and embroidered them together to create the Christmassy ad that we expect from the brand. The sight of the grandfather waving at a video of his departed wife will move the stoniest of hearts out there.

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The brand has been very clever with the placement of the iPad in the ad. The product was not really the hero which is the case when it comes to holiday ads, because Apple’s holiday ads are not a hard sell but about the holiday feel. Here too, the iPad does not ever take the center stage but remains very subtly vital to the plot. That said, every time the girls were not using the iPad, there was a sense of chaos that blanketed the ad’s plot, suggesting how getting an iPad not only kept the kids busy but also provided the adults with a safe enough escape, without making them bad parents.

This concept honestly did not sit well with us. Yes, we know everyone does it, but the ad basically tells you to hand your kids an iPad every time you want them to shut up, which to be honest was a little ethically off. The two girls used the iPad creatively (yes, the Apple Pencil is used with it time and again) and made everyone happy, which shows how easy the iPad is to use and how it helps your kids be creative and enables them to do so much including creating and editing videos and images. But let’s be real, giving your 7-year-old an iPad to keep them busy all the time might not turn out to be as creatively fruitful as this ad seems to indicate.

Heartwarming, but missing “Apple holiday” magic

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“Holiday – The Surprise” is all things Apple’s holiday ads are made of – an ad that is not aimed at selling anything but simply focuses on making you feel, well, mushy. The products are a part of the ad but never at the center of it. Emotions are the center of the holiday ad from Apple. This year is no different.

But this year’s holiday ad did not feel as magical as some of the ads we have had from the company, most notably last year’s sensation “Share Your Gifts”. Yes, it did have a huge emotional element, the typical mellow background music that makes everything warm and fuzzy and we did get a little teary-eyed at the end, but it did not ring our Christmas bells as loudly as some of the other ads have in the past. We also think it was too long at around three minutes. The brand could have easily trimmed the ad down without really taking away the essence of it. It warmed our hearts, but it was almost as if Apple was following a template here.

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And with that predictability, a little of the “magic” that is often an ingredient of these ads is lost. We never really felt there was a surprise on its way, which is not the Apple way at all. Yes, we did get a little sentimental when the grandfather waved at the grandmother, but there was no feeling of inspiration or awe, similar to the one which we had experienced last year. It had the feels but was not enough to make you go, “my heart is melting”, which is what we are used to from Apple’s holiday ads. “The Surprise” is good but just not “Apple holiday ad” great. We are moved, but not really surprised.

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