I don't know how I got here, but this is where I am: obsessed with the piano music in the latest iPhone ads.
As a rule, I resist commercials. I relegate them to background noise. I fast-forward through them. I read while they play. And I try mightily to not be manipulated by Apple (AAPL) and its massive marketing machine. But here I am: obsessed with the piano music in a commercial deployed by Apple's massive marketing machine.
The ads have insinuated themselves into my consciousness and now they won't let go. I realized how serious my problem was recently when I went to buy the song (I figured iTunes store, right?) and discovered that it's not a song at all, but a musical score written specifically for the iPhone campaign.
I was crushed.
You know the ads, right? One pushing the iPhone's music feature, another highlighting the phone's camera and a third celebrating FaceTime -- all with slightly different scores. It's the music ad -- the one depicting people moving, dancing and exercising to iPhone-supplied music -- that has its claws most deeply in me. The piano starts out slowly, almost forlorn. And then it builds, gaining energy and speed, until it is joyous, triumphant and I am near tears.
I can't explain it. But that's music. Moving. Inexplicable. Unforgettable.
"It was almost a play within a play," says Regis McKenna, the valley legend who ran Apple's early marketing. "The piano music sort of knitted everything together. It keeps you flowing through it and the music is kind of haunting."
The spot does a wonderful job of showing the emotion people feel when they listen to music, he says, providing consumers with what he calls "emotional information."
And it's powerful emotional information, if it's able to enthrall a buyer-beware cynic like me.
Look no farther than YouTube for proof. The ad has inspired a slew of cover versions and re-creations on the video site, which I've been turning to along with the versions on Apple's site to get my fix. Kind of pathetic, huh?
Tyler Sloan doesn't think so. He's a Missouri college student and musician who was determined to play the piece from the commercial known as "Music Every Day," even though he couldn't find a name for it or sheet music.
"Basically, I just listened to it over and over and over, about 50 times or so, until it got stuck in my head," Sloan, 25, says. And then he sat at his piano and went to work. You'll find the results on YouTube.
McKenna sees the old Apple magic in the latest campaign, a magic that went dormant after co-founder Steve Jobs died in 2011. "I think there was a hiatus there for awhile right after Steve's death," he says, "but I think they have recaptured it, I really do, in this series."
McKenna says Apple's employees and brain trust experienced a trauma with the loss of their high-profile leader, which led to an advertising slump. And, he adds, there simply haven't been as many new iProducts to warrant flashy commercial treatment.
Music has never been an afterthought in Apple's advertising. Jobs famously went back and forth with his buddy, Bono, about whether to use U2's "Vertigo" in an iPod ad. Then, of course, Bob Dylan made an appearance. And before U2 and Dylan, the Rolling Stones provided the soundtrack for the rollout of the iMac.
But in some ways Jobs and Apple execs preferred lesser-known talents and composers. The products were supposed to be the stars of Apple ads. And so there was Feist, with her own earworm "1234," and Chairlift and Yael Naim; and now Los Angeles film composer Rob Simonsen with his piano suite for iPhone ads.
Tech companies have a history of memorable music in advertising. There was Intel (INTC) in the 1990s, trotting out their bunny people to "Boogie Fever." And Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) calling on Vivaldi to hawk its TouchSmart PC. Cisco (CSCO) turned to British rockers The Who to invigorate its "human network" campaign, while Google (GOOG) opted for a piano solo, not unlike the iPhone score, for its "Parisian Love" Super Bowl ad in 2010.
All fine choices, though my boogie fever broke long ago. Fine enough choices that they've inspired me to launch a contest. (Yes, it's audience participation time.) I'm going to post a few tech company commercials on this newspaper's Silicon Beat blog at www.siliconbeat.com. Your job is to use the commenting section to vote on your favorite. Better yet, I encourage you to suggest write-in candidates, complete with links if possible.
It will be fun, really. And, of course, I already know which song is getting my vote.