I find it crazy how Apple can come out with two commercials promoting the same service in pretty much the same way and knock it out of the park with one and make me throw my remote at the TV with the other.
If you haven’t seen the commercials for Siri on the iPhone 4S, go check it out and also watch some TV, what are you doing? Samuel L. Jackson is hilarious, while Zooey Deschannel seems like a third-grader.
The inflection in her voice in the opening of the commercial sets the stage for Zooey. “Is it raining?,” she asks, sounding more like an eight-year-old asking her mother what to wear outside than an actual adult woman.
I get the whole “manic pixie dream girl” aesthetic that Zooey has built her career on, but it seems way too contrived in this 30 second spot. After Siri answers, “Yes, it appears to be raining,” as she looks out her window towards the pouring rain, Zooey asks, “Can we get tomato soup delivered, because I don’t want to put on real shoes.” Because, you know, the layers of make-up and eyeliner is fine, but real shoes— that’s just asking too much.
But what I find most interesting and horrible about this commercial is the way in which Zooey D has allowed herself to be branded as this sort of helpless, immature, sex-pot meets trendster. I’ve followed her career trajectory because I always thought she was really relatable and authentic. She wrote a letter to Vogue at 17 telling the magazine to “expand their idea of beauty” for adolescent American girls.
But now, Zooey has become the very definition of the cover girls she once criticized. She’s not exactly preaching second-wave feminism on the cover of Marie Claire.
Apple tries to brand her as the alternative-it-girl by putting Zooey in a room with instruments and having her listen to classic rock n’ roll, but it’s to no avail. Caked in make-up and asking dumb questions to her phone, Zooey seems more like a modern-day Rapunzel, trapped in her mansion longing for delivery tomato soup than she does a strong, witty female.
Quite conversely, the other commercial, which features Siri helping out a celebrity, utilizes Samuel L. Jackson in a way that is endearing and comical.
In this spot, Siri helps Samuel L. make some of his famous gazpacho because “It’s date night!” Samuel L., a real renaissance man we learn, cooks a meal for his date. Siri helps him find the nearest store that sells organic mushrooms and tells him how many ounces are in a cup.
Unlike Zooey who seems to use the product for simple tasks, therefore coming off indolent, Samuel L. uses Siri as an assistant. He talks to her (the iPhone) like he would a friend. It may be because he has such a great voice or because it’s funny to watch the man who played Mace Windu speak to a telephone about organic mushrooms, but when he talks to the phone you can’t help but smile. When Siri asks to confirm the reminder to put the gazpacho on ice, Samuel L comes back with his best line since Snakes on a Plane. “Unless you want hotspacho,” he yells back at Siri.
Let’s acknowledge first that literally no other actor could pull off this line without sounding so incredibly ridiculous that you would never see a movie of theirs again. Hotspacho is such a dumb thing to say, and yet, Samuel L. makes it work. Perhaps it’s because of all the ridiculous things he’s said in movies throughout the years or maybe it’s because he seems so proud of his joke in the ad. Either way, for the past two months I’ve been responding “unless you want hotspacho” to the majority of questions I’m asked outside of class.
Apple was probably right to use celebrities in these ads to show different ways that Siri could work, and they tried to tailor each commercial to fit the stereotypes of both actors. There’s a lot to say about using celebrities in commercials and Apple has typically done a great job knowing when to do so.
With Zooey, they are going after the 20-something, too lazy to get out of bed and over-uses technology market, which is very real market, especially for Apple. But just because those kind of people buy Apple products doesn’t necessarily mean portraying them through Zooey Deschannel or even on TV at all is a good idea. I hope we all don’t sound like that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tell Siri to remind me to put the gazpacho on ice