The Age of Hard and Soft: Tearsheets, Apple, Nest and Smarter

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Kettle
How are brands pitching the emerging world of the internet of things?  Some interesting new directions in ads for domestic appliances and a twist on an old story from Apple

As a young kid, the Future mapped out by TV was one part The Jetsons one part the hi-tech craft of Gerry Anderson’s swivel-eyed heroes of International Rescue. I’m not sure which narrative of the future this smart kettle fits, shown on the prime space on the back page of a newspaper supplement. By their choice of name, the Smarter kettle not only boils up the water, makes a refreshing brew but it occupies a whole product area, a whole new chapter in how we will live – nice work! It’s like an ISP calling its company “The Internet”. Brash and bold in its naming, the photo is an elegant visual-lesson for folks in what a smart kettle is, the proximity of the iPhone to the kettle functions as a primer for consumers in ’cause-and-effect’.

One visual direction in these new internet-enabled products is the minimal product shot, the still-life of the machine age. There are two constrasting drivers of this, on the one hand, pared-down minimalism has always been the aesthetic of futurism in the still image (in terms of narrative, collage is the aesthetic, think Richard Hamiliton’sJust What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?). On the other hand brands are still trying to find a visual language, a familiar visual shorthand to explain the functionality of the Internet of Things and shots of the product make it tangible.

Nest for example, in pitching their internet connected smoke alarm, highlight one of the themes we will be exploring in the next couple of months – colour. Like the traffic light system, the alarm glows different colours as a way of signalling information. Great graphic device in this execution on a billboard on the London Underground.

Nest

On a different but related note, Apple’s current ad campaign plays with the classic contrast between technology and nature, between the hard machine of industry, and the soft machine of nature – but delivers it in a fascinating execution. These two images appeared in a recent New Yorker, the inside back page featuring the stainless steel back of the iPhone 6,
iPhone 6 back
On the outside back there’s a carefully chosen image of a flower, close-up, with the kind of symmetry and patterning signalling the engineering of nature.
iPhone 6 front

Apple not only own the front and back page, they own the in-beween, transforming the mundane act of turning he page into a very tangible experience of playful communication.

And in the execution below the message is even clearer, as we are intended to make the visual and conceptual connection between the framing of the phone by the white space and the framing of the delicate design of nature in the leaf.
Apple Underground

You could call this kind of photography “Still Life Plus”, where certain tech brands are using the visual detail of the natural world to make associations with the sophistication and simplicity of the product.

In the Age of Hard and Soft we will see more of these kinds of contrasts and connections between photography and products as brands and consumers navigate their way into uncharted territory, with different relationships between people and things, between physical space and digital space.

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