In Powell Muni station the other evening I could hardly contain my fascination with this:

Advert for Apple iPad, Powell station, San Francisco (click for big)

It’s one of those somewhat boring iPad adverts that you see everywhere – just the thing, on someone’s knee, showing what you can do with it. What I think’s slightly pathetic about the campaign generally is that it seems to be predicated on the notion that people don’t actually know what they will do with one of these devices, so the adverts have to show them. Apple are spending their advertising money justifying their product’s very existence. Anyway, the fact that this advert shows someone on Facebook is brilliant because with the amount and specificity of information in Facebook we get a real insight into what Apple thinks is its ideal consumer.

Let’s start by looking at the profile page displayed. It’s a 26-year-old woman named Mia Lee. Clever use of name: Mia (according to top Google hit is Italian, while Lee could indicate Anglo-Saxon or Asian descent – hits a lot of demographics while sounding worldly and sophisticated. Mia has 373 friends – note that the average user has 130 friends, so she’s comfortably popular without being an obsessive friend collector. The little selection of friend pictures on the left hand side shows other people roughly her own age, a selection of regular seeming folk, although one of them has a vaguely arty portrait done in profile, while Kyle Conrad is clearly CRAZY fun. Mia herself is on the distinctly pretty side of normal and has a wholesome rosy-cheekedness and a cute scarf.

What’s Mia up to? She’s just got back from a trip to LA, where she hung out on the beach with a few friends: they took photos of themselves with a surfboard, but not, apparently, while out drinking or doing anything even mildly controversial. That’s OK: most people don’t want compromising stuff on Facebook. Her friend Katerina Vardiabasis (also European sounding) can hardly contain her excitement at the prospect of seeing Mia again now she’s back from the trip, so has gone on her Facebook page to say so. Mia also recently had a party! A guy called Teddy Phuong writes on her Facebook page to apologise for not making it to the party and say he heard that everyone had a great time. For some reason, another friend called Stephanie has “liked” this post. This is the bit I don’t get: Stephanie logged on to Facebook some time after the party and, scrolling through her news items, saw this missive from Teddy. What did she like about it? I suppose the fact that Teddy had heard people enjoyed themselves. Probably, Stephanie was there, and enjoyed herself, and wanted to indicate this to Mia. But if so couldn’t she find some other comment, photo or other item to Like, instead of Teddy’s apology? What if it comes across as Stephanie liking the fact that Teddy wasn’t at the party? Or is she showing her approval of his good manners in apologising? Whatever. It’s a minor error in the execution of this otherwise deadly efficient piece of advertising.

There is yet further data to mine from this page. I initially thought Mia might live in San Francisco, but no: her album of pictures from LA is titled “West Coast,” so she doesn’t live in California (or Washington or Oregon…). She’s almost certainly East Coast, and judging by the scarf, somewhere cold like Boston or New York. I think they decided to leave that part ambiguous. She has posted a photo of her “dream bike” – we see little, but it’s enough. She’s no hipster: this is not some slick fixie, it’s more of a granny shopper, with its swept back handlebars and basket. With her colourful scarf and kooky bike-idealisation, we can be sure that Mia is a delightfully quirky, somewhat thoughtful and whimsical individual – but nonetheless super fun to be around, what with all the people writing about how great it is to spend time with her. Speaking of which, yet another European-sounding friend has something to say! Antoine Choussat wants Mia to be in touch next time she’s in Europe. Yeah, next time.

OK, four paragraphs of way-too-much sarcasm about how wondrous this fictitious person of Apple’s is. I would not have bothered with all of this if that’s all there was. See, at first I guessed (foolishly) that the image in the advert was supposed to show someone checking their own Facebook page. This would straightforwardly imply that the profile displayed would tell us the kind of person Apple thinks its customers want to be. But it’s much worse than that. Don’t those fingers you can just glimpse look a bit like man-fingers? (Clue: yes they do, especially if you can see the whole advert, rather than just my photo of a little bit of it. Man fingers). What we’re seeing in the advert is a guy looking at Mia Lee’s Facebook page. He’s a friend of Mia’s – but could it be more than that? In fact, he’s not just looking. You’ll see that the iPad’s keyboard is visible just at the bottom of the photo. He’s typed her a message: you can see it in the box at the top. He says “Let’s grab coffee after you unpack” – and his finger is hovering over the “Share” button! He’s about to post this little message to her wall! What we’re actually witnessing here is an iPad-owning man in the very instant at which he tries to set up a date with the gorgeous, charming, popular and well-travelled Ms. Lee. This is what the advert is saying: get the iPad and you can get this girl. Look at her. Isn’t she awesome?