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This article was published on November 8, 2016

Why are technology adverts so terrible?

Why are technology adverts so terrible?
Matthew Hughes
Story by

Matthew Hughes

Former TNW Reporter

Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Follow him on Twi Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Follow him on Twitter.

Earlier today, Asus asked its Twitter followers a simple question.

Women were asked to choose between a “hunk with a #cat” and a “ever-so-charming guy with the #ZenBook 3” as a potential romantic partner. Similarly, blokes were asked to pick whether they’d want to date a “cute girl with a #cat” or a “sophisticated lady” using the latest ultrabook from the Taiwanese hardware company.


No, I don’t get it either.

The response to the tweet was, as you might expect, overwhelmingly negative. Asus deleted it after just a couple of hours. But it was yet another illustration of how bad some technology adverts are, and how many tech companies simply don’t know how to market their products.

The tech advert hall of shame

I feel like I need to follow that subheading with a warning. We’re about to visit some of the most atrocious technology adverts ever created. Much like a packet of Lucky Strikes, some of these should come with a health warning from the Surgeon General. These are so cringeworthy – so unbelievably terrible – they’re bad for your health.

Let’s rip the band-aid off and start with this 2013 spot for the Samsung Galaxy Gear. This, dear reader, is perhaps the worst tech advert of all time.

I legitimately don’t know what I find most offensive about it. Is it the unconvincing acting? The creepy undertones? The insulting insinuation that this advert would persuade someone – would persuade me – to buy a Samsung Gear Watch?

And surprising nobody, here’s another shit tech advert from everyone’s favorite technology-slash-pyrotechnics company. Three years ago, Samsung released its advert for the Samsung 840 EVO Solid State Drive (SSD). Brace yourselves.

But it seems like before filming started, the actors decided to neck a bottle of sleeping pills. I mean, that’s the only explanation I have for the slooooow and robotic manner in which they deliver their lines. This advert also got a lot of flak for reinforcing outdated gender stereotypes. It features a token woman who is hopelessly technologically inept, and is condescendingly spoon-fed what an SSD is, and how to install it.

Anyway, let’s stop picking on Samsung, and move on to… Er… Samsung.

When it launched the Galaxy Note 4 two years ago, it released a gnarly series of adverts mocking Apple’s culture of fanaticism, and its recent tendency to release small, incremental updates. This campaign was called #NOTEtheDIFFERENCE, because absolutely everything has to have a hashtag.

But like most of its marketing endeavors, this too felt flat. The jokes it made were obvious and poorly delivered. It would only really make sense to a niche group of tech fans, the majority of which have already made up their minds what phone they wanted to use.

In defense of Samsung, it has released some decent adverts. The most recent of which was its advert for the Galaxy Note 7, which featured Christoph Waltz, who in my eyes can do no wrong.

And other companies have unleashed their own shitverts on the world before. Apple’s (yes, that Apple) Lemmings adverts was notoriously bad. And even after all these years, who can forget Dell’s Dude, You’re Getting A Dell spot?

And while technically not an advert, Qualcomm’s batshit insane 2013 keynote still gives me nightmares. It’s an illustration of how incredibly out-of-touch many tech companies are.

Technology companies just don’t know who their customers are

I want to emphatically state that I am not a marketing professional. As such, everything I state after this point should be taken with such a heaping pinch of salt, your blood pressure goes through the roof.

When I was growing up in the 1990’s, I used to read a PC games magazine called PC Zone. It was lewd, and it was filthy, and it was outrageous, and in retrospect, I was probably a bit too young for it.

At the time, PC gaming was seen as a male domain. As a result, the magazine adopted the stylings of the so-called “lad mags”, like FHM and Nuts. And the adverts that filled its pages for games and for all-important hardware upgrades targeted this demographic mercilessly. They were rude, sexually charged, and packed with innuendo.

Thankfully, those days are gone.

We’ve moved on. Today, everyone is a technology consumer. Technology is becoming more and more inclusive, and it’s better for it. But in the face of this broadening, technology companies are paralyzed. They don’t know how to make adverts that everyone can relate to. Even when companies try, they often get it wrong. Just scroll up and watch Samsung’s dreadful 840 Evo advert again.

So, what’s the answer? At the risk of sounding like an Apple fanboy, tech companies need to look to Cupertino for inspiration.

Why Apple’s adverts are so good

Apple’s commercials are overwhelmingly product-focused. They’re seldom about people or stories. It’s about what this latest MacBook Pro or iPhone can do. Just watch this spot for the latest MacBook Pro and tell me that you’re not just a little bit tempted to buy one.

The few exceptions to this rule are brilliant because they’re believable. They tell stories about how Apple’s tech can improve people’s lives. No gimmicks. No lame jokes. It’s all very straightforward, and it works.

Credibility is vital for the success of an advert. As a result, Apple has been known to use genuine, honest-to-god people in its adverts, like deaf travel blogger Cherie King.

What’s so incredibly powerful about all of these adverts is that they transcend gender, race, and sexuality. They appeal to everyone, and it’s done so effortlessly.

I don’t think that every company should be just like Apple, because I know not every company is Apple. They each have their own personalities, and quirks, and corporate culture. Apple is its own unique entity that’s quite unlike anything else. But do I think that most companies could learn a thing or two about creating compelling, inclusive adverts that tell stories from Apple? Absolutely.

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