How fun became cultural currency

Since its emergence as a mainstream brand in the early 1980s, Apple has become one of our clearest cultural bell-weathers. As it goes, so does culture.

When Apple debuted its iconic ‘1984’ inspired spot, directed by Ridley Scott, perhaps the most famous ad of all time, it reflected a decade where battling back against establishment oppression & distrust of big tech were at the fore. The decade of Star Wars and Terminator. In 1999, Think Different created a kind of ‘brand personality’ led marketing that defined how the biggest brands operated for years to come. Then as the 21st century moved on, Apple became synonymous with very purposeful, human-led ads that captured the mood of modern audiences. This covid-era spot, being a particular highlight.

Which brings us to today, and Apple’s latest work, ‘Hello Yellow.’ An ad that to me is equally as brilliant as any referenced above. An ad that is trying to say, well, exactly nothing.

The ad is all light, fun and colour. Utilising big bright colours, cartoon style animation and up-beat music, it’s 30-seconds of pure joy. No particular message or purpose statement, no mega-stars, no borrowing from external IP or brand partnerships, just an array of totally random animated characters including a sunflower, jumping eye and a man with a chameleon for hair. It’s bizarre, bonkers and brilliant in equal measure, but above all, it’s just fun.

As always, Apple hasn’t created a trend, but it has perfectly reflected one. As we struggle through an incredibly difficult time post-covid, defined by war, recession and a cost-of-living crisis, culture is turning to the light as a reaction to the darkness in our lives.

Tik Tok has become the fastest growing force in culture over the last decade, powered by a spirit of randomness, creativity and fun. Tik Tok doesn’t ask you to overthink anything, it just injects silliness and fun directly into your brain, and audiences, particularly younger ones, are obsessed by it.

In film, this year we saw a historic Oscars performance by Everything Everywhere All At Once. While the result was predicted by many, it doesn’t change just how shocking this really was. This was a meme-filled, totally random sci-fi film, that bounces between the bizarre (sausages for hands!) and the beautiful. It is nothing like the films the Oscars normally recognises, which are genuinely big, serious films about historical figures or powerful dramas. Even the Oscars is embracing fun in 2023.

By no means is this all-encompassing. The title of this article comes from The Last Of Us. Another culture dominating force, this may have been an end-of-the-world story with humanity in its heart, but it was still an end-of-the-world story. In today’s more fragmented cultural landscape, it’s never going to be the case for one tone or trend to be all encompassing, the way it was when all we had was movies and four TV channels.

For brands too, it isn’t to say that the age of purposeful marketing is dead. Consumers are still demanding organisations step up and play a positive force in the world. There will still be a place for communications based around showing what you believe and what you stand for.

But what Apple have always been genius at doing, is putting themselves in the mind of those they want to speak to. Understanding that successful communications aren’t built primarily from what you want to say, but a true understanding of those you want to say it to.

Their latest work correctly identifies that, right now, as the world around us gets darker, audiences are looking for a little light. For the weird, the wonderful, the colourful, the bright. Long may it continue.