The unskippable underdogs: the director behind the lengthy 'Apple at work' films

The team present the idea of “BetterBag” start-up
'Apple at work': third in series featured 'The underdogs' escape clutches of evil boss

Since 2019 'The underdogs' have humorously captured the trials and tribulations of the working world, all the while advertising Apple's products. Campaign talks to Smuggler director Mark Molloy to discuss why they are so effective.

Beyond the glory hunters, there’s a strong human urge to root for the underdog. This is precisely why Apple’s "The underdogs" keep getting renewed, with each chapter of the scrappy team thickening in plot and lengthening in screentime, as the action bounds along at an infectious rate. 

At precisely eight minutes and 50 seconds of product after product, it’s fair to say, by description, the latest instalment of "The underdogs" defies the law of good advertising. But it's the fact that it doesn’t feel force-fed that makes the “Apple at work” series genius. 

“The product is a character – it’s never treated like the ‘product’,” Smuggler director Mark Molloy says, as he reflects on the series thus far. “There’s never a cut to a gratuitous product shot, it’s integrated into the script. We once counted the number of product shots, which was insane. But people don’t feel that.” 

It all began back in 2019 when the director was re-approached by Apple after he created “Homework”; a film that shows a bunch of uninterested kids burst into creativity after they get a special school assignment for homework to study gravity, all thanks to their trusty iPads.  

“The first one we did was really brave of Apple,” Molloy admits, detailing how the Silicon Valley giant wanted a short film that used all its products, together. No biggie. “[Apple had] never done that before, so we didn’t have a set idea in our mind,” he recalls.

With a fair few Apple ads already in his repertoire, he should know. 

“The brief from Apple was four underdogs who have a project, in a boring office,” Molloy says. “It’s that small nugget of an idea that everything is based on.”

Arguably, not the most romantic brief, but the idea certainly had legs. 

If you’ve watched all three chapters of the "Apple at work" series, you’ll know the cast is perfect.

“We had an idea of who we thought these four people could be. A big part of it is seeing ourselves in these people,” Molloy says. “What makes the underdogs successful, all happened in the casting. Because we got four great characters with a really great dynamic between them.” 

That’s when it comes off the page, Molloy says. When he’s writing the script, he knows the characters – just like writing a sitcom. 

Revisiting a real Apple-invented concept, the first chapter featured the four introducing a sceptical world to the need for round pizza boxes. At a mere three minutes (the shortest edition by far) the film still managed to cram Mac, iPhone, Apple Watch, Apple Business Essentials and a suite of business apps into the narrative. 

Then the pandemic hit, evolving the working world and so, for the next edition, Molloy wrote an ode to remote working, lockdown edition. It captured all the frustrations, family responsibilities, and video blunders that come with working from home. 

“We really wanted to capture the zeitgeist of what was happening and how we were living. We saw this really interesting time unfold, which was an inspiration,” Molloy says. “Then obviously now [it's] 'The Great Resignation',” he says, referring to the third chapter, in which the scrappy team finds its feet after resigning, usurping the market leader (and former employer) Arca as the dominant business with a “BetterBag” start-up.

“We want to give people a window into their world of work. We tried to find the nuance and humour in those situations," Molloy adds. 

At the heart of the entire “Apple at work” series, the way humans communicate in the modern world has been a key theme. “By the second one, I started to really think about how we communicate these days,” Molloy says. “It’s not just conversations, it’s text and emojis, gifs, Facetime. We communicate in really different ways. You can say things in different ways. That’s really fun.” 

From three minutes to seven – and now almost nine – it feels like “The underdogs” are moving towards a TV show. In a world where ads are often skippable, long-form spots always feel like a brave move and Molloy admits he has had his doubts. 

“As we’ve been doing them, we wondered: 'Are people going to still watch?'” he admits. “It feels like we’re doing something a little bit different. Like we’re slowly stepping into something without quite knowing where it’s going, which is very exciting. Because people are watching them, that’s the main thing.” 

And lastly, the most important question: can we expect a feature-length movie blockbuster or a sitcom series? What's next for everyone's favourite underdogs?

"There seems to be a lot of love for them so I’m excited to see what’s next for them," Molloy says, not giving too much away. "Everyone at Apple loves them. There's been a lot of talk so stay tuned.” 

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.com, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber

GET YOUR CAMPAIGN DAILY FIX

Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free