THR Web Features   /   May 30, 2024

Creativity in the Age of Crush

Apple giveth and Apple taketh away.

Leann Davis Alspaugh

( YouTube screenshots from Apple’s “Crush” ad [left] and Samsung’s “Uncrush” ad [right].)

The first to go is a trumpet, then paint cans bursting artfully all over an upright piano. Next comes a metronome, a clay bust of a classical head, a chess set, cameras, record players, a guitar, and an arcade game. The last to go is a yellow rubber head with eyes that pop out. By now, you have probably heard about Apple’s “Crush” ad in which a large hydraulic press flattens various items associated with art and creativity. At the end of the ad, the new iPad Pro, thinner and more compact than ever, lies on the bed of the now-pristine press. It is a device so brilliantly conceived and executed, we are to understand, that it can encompass human creativity so comprehensively that those former primitive efforts no longer matter. 

One of the first critics of the Apple ad was actor Hugh Grant who deadpanned on X: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.” (When you’ve lost Hugh Grant…) Samsung responded with its own “Uncrush” ad in which a young woman walks through what appears to be the wreckage of the Apple ad, picks up a battered guitar, fires up her Galaxy tablet, and starts strumming to the music on its screen. In her on-trend torn jeans and white t-shirt, she offers just the sort of analog human response toward which Samsung—“the anti-Apple”—so often aims. The Samsung ad is gentle and moody, where Apple’s is harsh and violent. This advertising clash is so perfectly orchestrated that one wonders if it was all nothing more than a collaboration between two warring tech giants. The backlash against Apple was swift and widespread, and Apple CEO Tim Cook promptly admitted they had “missed the mark.” In our awkward age, Cook had no choice but to step up quickly and candidly telegraph contrition. The stakes were admittedly low: No one was harmed by the “Crush” ad and legal ramifications were almost nil. And it’s a safe bet that many of the ad’s critics were probably lining up the next day at the Apple store to buy the new iPad Pro. 

There are two points, however, that can be made here. One is to note, for the umpteenth time, the hubris of a globally successful company, one whose market domination is so pervasive that it feels confident in pursuing any marketing strategy that pushes its product to the top of consumers’ minds. Did Apple mean to offend humble artists? One hopes they did not—yet the ad was not created in a vacuum, untethered from human input. Scores of consultants, marketers, engineers, logistics managers, designers, and executives brought this ad to life. Not all of them, surely, were natives of Silicon Valley, worshipping the god of ever-better tech. I would like to think that the ad started with a group of designers who sketched ideas out on paper, or even created a story board. Perhaps, marketing interns bought multiples of each item so the ad could be rehearsed. After all, paint cans have to be flattened in just the right way to achieve the best splattering effect. In the world of Apple advertising, there are no accidents. There is a degree of deliberation and intentionality at work here that implies that Apple knew exactly what it was doing. And if it we accept that premise, then, it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine that outrage and negative publicity were just what Apple wanted. Then the forbidding Mr. Cook could admit the misstep with the kind of mock humility that passes for sincerity these days. Apple humanized. Kind of brilliant, no?

What about Samsung’s reaction? The Samsung ad came out very quickly, almost suspiciously so. It is a much simpler ad from a planning perspective, and one that could be concepted, filmed, and released within hours, especially when the brand is one large enough to marshal plenty of resources. One set, one actor who can play the guitar. No mess to clean up, no duplicate metronomes to crush. All you need is electricity, wi-fi, and a camera—one along the lines of, say, Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra, the “sensational flagship smartphone that pushes the boundaries of modern photography.”

Samsung’s assurance that they would “never crush creativity” is comforting. But we all know they would be perfectly happy to crush the competition. According to Reuters, earlier this year, Apple ended Samsung’s 12-year run as the largest seller of smartphones in a global market; although the difference is admittedly small, Apple now commands 20.1% of the global market to Samsung’s 19.4%. In the US market alone, according to, Apple holds 59.8% while Samsung lags far behind with 23.3%. 

The statistics are interesting but, among consumers, smartphone preference is highly personal and people are very stubborn about their choices. My cousin scorns “fruit phones, fruit computers, and fruit TV,” preferring Samsung products. Most of the people I know are dedicated Apple customers. These preferences are in some ways akin to Starbucks vs Dunkin vs the independents. We like what we get used to and, if it makes a statement along the way, so be it.

The “Crush” ad draws heavily on the nostalgia vibe. It opens with a ticking metronome, followed by a record player getting up to speed and Cher’s plaintive mezzo intoning “Sometimes when I’m down and all alone…” Soon, the ballad is transformed by soaring strings while Cher sings over the squeaks and crashes from the items exploding under the press. When the ad cuts to the lid lifting on the clean press, she and Sonny sing jauntily about rainbows while the camera zooms in on the iPad Pro’s screensaver with its multicolored swirling pattern—“all I ever need is you!” (Sonny and Cher’s “All I Ever Need Is You” was released in 1971; the album cover shows the couple dressed in trendy denim and posing in a solarium crammed full of stuff desperately in need of crushing. Fast forward to 1998 when Cher released “Believe,” a song that jumpstarted her stalled career and one that popularized Auto-Tune, an AI-driven pitch-altering technology. Maybe Apple’s real achievement here is their one-minute commentary on the intersection of pop music and technology.)

Apple’s destruction of creative objects, high and low, is democratic in the sense that no one artform was treated differently from another. The guitar, the chess set, the arcade game: Each is equally susceptible to being flattened, its capacity for expression extinguished. Can we—should we—reasonably expect that Apple’s product, the iPad Pro, will be essentially better than what it replaced, or is it merely a matter of time before it too is obsolete? We have all spent enough time around technology at this point to know that each device is existing on borrowed time, its countdown to obsolescence commencing the minute it arrives. Eventually, even the updates no longer work.

When Roland Barthes analyzed the photograph of the pasta ad in “Rhetoric of the Image,” he decoded a number of ideas—Italian culture, wholesome sustenance, evidence of the human hand, a pleasing and balanced set of items to be assembled into a pleasing and balanced meal—that worked together to produce the impression that Panzani pasta was more delicious and desirable than any other brand. One brand of pasta may really be no different from another, but when Panzani is paired with fresh vegetables and tasty sauce, all of it spilling out of a string bag as if just brought home by Mama, you can practically smell the homecooking.

Apple’s “Crush” ad runs on the empty calories of hollow nostalgia. While it might conjure odd associations of abandoned art projects or wasted afternoons at the arcade, the ad does not encourage a renewal of these creative impulses, or an exploration of new ones. It doesn’t invest these bits of creative detritus with a rosy glow—not even Cher’s husky, homey voice can do that. Using a banal pop song and a bunch of twentieth century artifacts to sell the latest cutting-edge technology seems a strange way to exploit a yearning for simpler times and happier days. While it is hardly novel for a company to use nostalgia to market its products—witness the revived popularity of vinyl records and retro sneakers—there is a quality of desperation to the Apple “Crush” ad. When I saw the ad for the first time, my first thought was “Why?” Must there be wholesale destruction in the service of nothing more than desire? If Apple builds it, will they buy? Of course, the answer is yes. There are devoted early adopters out there who want to be the first—their status as influencers demands it. Is this really what we’ve been yearning for?