Embracing Failure: Trying New Things Isn’t A Mistake

embracing failure

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle last week? It was a great example of why it’s increasingly hard for creative marketing teams to be embracing failure.

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: “Mistakes” look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with computer graphics (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“Yeah! A hydraulic press! People love that kinda stuff!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”


“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

Cue the creative director, storyboarding it out – and away they went.

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A maybe not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

Now, of course the other thing is that none of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Embracing Failure Vs. Fixing Mistakes

Many ad campaigns can provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re embracing failure? Or are they making mistakes to which they should apologize? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some of these cautionary messages are necessary and helpful to ensuring that embracing failure doesn’t actually kill you (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) And some aren’t helpful at all (“You better make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference. As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. T

For example, I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work. And wouldn’t you think me insane if I felt like I needed to apologize for trying to make it?

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create some content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes. But, generally speaking the “mistake” isn’t the content, it’s the faulty intention, the “cheat” being attempted, or the “failure” to actually originate the idea. For example, when a CEO, a politician, or anyone creates content that is just a fabricated lie, meant to deceive, or distract – that’s not just a creative decision, you can rightly call that a mistake, regardless of whether the content succeeds or not.

But content creators also create content that just simply fails.

Embracing Failure: Good Content Fails Too

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake. And, again, it would be weird to feel like we have to apologize for it.

Was the Apple ad a fail? Probably. Was it a mistake? You may feel differently, but I don’t think it was. I certainly don’t think the team had ill intention, or in some way failed to work hard, or not consider people’s feelings.

The commercial actually did generate an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The wonderful Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad lost the day, but it is only that. One. Day.

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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