iPod Ads and Print Design Philosophy

Printing ethically, designing ethically…

Is it possible for a print design campaign to be TOO effective? That's what some critics are claiming in regards to the consistently acclaimed advertising created by Apple for the iPod.

Bizarro 'has it really been that long?' moment: Apple has been using the same, distinctive advertising style to promote the iPod for almost a decade. Print promotions usually involve giant-sized banners, billboards, or vehicle wraps featuring a bright, candy-colored background, and a black silhouetted figure rocking out on an iPod.

The print ads are beautifully conceived, colored, and executed. Often, iPod TV commercials will feature the posters or billboards as a central element of the advertisement.

So…great. Everybody's favorite gadget has consistently cool, appealing print collateral. What's the problem? According to designer Cheryl Towler Weese, these almost perfectly tuned print ads could be contributing to the tidal wave of theft and even violent crime surrounding the iPod.

In her article on the subject, Weese says that Apple receives calls reporting iPod thefts every six minutes. She hypothesizes that the company's deft promotional strategies have worked consumers up into a frenzy of desire that's directly related to the extreme theft-worthiness of the device. Almost as if Apple's vehicle wraps and banners aren't just saying “buy an iPod,” they're saying “GET AN IPOD BY WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY!”

It's easy to decry the absurdity of this claim. The iPod's small size, sleek design, and high price tag are reason enough to turn it into an easily stolen, easily sold item. But I think that Weese's point is bigger than the iPod itself.

Designers, copywriters, and all those involved in the advertising industry have an amazing ability to capture the human imagination and transform us into, zombie-like creatures of unstoppable material obsession. This is true of all artists, authors, and musicians. However, in the case of advertising, creativity is not about personal, authentic expression of the human condition, it's about making profits. The onus, then, could be said to be upon the advertiser to make design decisions that don't just compel consumer, but that are also safe for consumers.

As we've seen throughout design history in the cases of political, health, religion, environmentalism, and other social issues, print media has incredible influence over the world around it. There's no reason why a print promotion for a product that strikes the right tone and has the right distribution couldn't be as influential (and as potentially beneficial/harmful) as any mass political propaganda campaign.

With the design industry itself increasingly focusing on ethical harm/heal issues like “green design,” the issue of design ethics is unavoidably on the table. How do we balance our commitment to turning out an effective piece of advertising, with the humanist imperative to protect and care for each other?

This is hardly a new issue, but maybe it is an issue that has become too overwhelming to ignore. So, is it possible for a print design campaign to be too effective? Do Apple's blithely hedonistic ads encourage criminal behavior? Let me know what you think!


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