Zen & The Art Of Apple Maintenance
Yup, the Cupertino company appeared at the time to have lost much of its “here’s to the crazy ones” mojo.
And some of that is inevitable. How can a brand the size of a superpower maintain its badass “pirate” sensibility?
Still, I’m sorry to report that, almost one year later, in a very crowded market (which will only get more competitive with Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia), the Apple ads have gotten worse.
I mean stare-at-the–TV-screen-in-disbelief bad. For instance, one recent spot is the absolute equivalent of an AT&T commercial from the ‘70s: over a montage of people nicely lit by their Apple screens, we hear that more people take pictures with Apple than any other brand. (Aren’t you glad you did?)
My advice for anthem ads in general: Keep them for the sales meeting, where they will be met with the woo-hoos the employees genuinely feel. Consumers don’t want to see or hear all that self-indulgence. “This is it,” the Apple ad announces. “This is what matters: the experience of a product. How it makes someone feel. Will it make life better?”
My least favorite part is the double-touch sentence. “We spend a lot of time on a few great things until every idea we touch enhances each life it touches.” Is that like a self-canceling double negative?
Yikes. All this modified Zen is read over another very soft visual montage of people who are NOT experiencing what they seem to be doing, because they are looking at their damn phones or iPads.
Sadly, it also strikes a condescending tone: Are you good enough to touch the thing that enhances each life it touches?
So, in search of my own manifesto, I went to see the “Jobs” movie, where I was one of nine people in the theater. You can’t blame Apple for that. This is one of several films that the real fanboys refuse to see, since they have every moment of the company’s history already committed to memory.
And, indeed, I wanted to leave after the first 10 minutes. It starts with a stick-thin Steve in his signature black turtleneck and jeans announcing the iPod to a standing O.
I’ve got to say Ashton does a pretty good impersonation, walk and all. Except that he has a much cuter nose, which he can’t hide, and his beard reminded me of the one usually found on an animatronic Abe Lincoln.
From there, the film goes back, back, back to the golden times of the early-to-mid-‘70s, while Steve was residing around, but not matriculating, at Reed College. It becomes a cross between “E.T.” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Jobs walks around the campus like a Messiah, leading packs of people. (Just like that teacher-guy in the Farmer’s Insurance ad, who, it turns out, plays an Apple board member in the movie.)
You can smell the patchouli wafting over the rooms with the Indian bedspreads on the walls, as Steve beds various women. The tripping scenes were really the worst — the movie at its most self-parodic — as he dances in his sandals in the wheat fields, and all is golden.
It’s during one such LSD-induced breakthrough that he says to his then-girlfriend, Chris Anne Brennan, “Who has a baby and throws it away?” (Referring to his own adoption.) This is the film’s Rosebud moment. The movie suggests that his inner emptiness over his adoption accounts for all of Jobs’ future craziness and cruelty,
He does in fact have a baby with his college girlfriend and throws “it” away, refusing to acknowledge her (a girl named Lisa) or pay child support, even while his lawyers beg him to do so. (He and Lisa did unite later in her life.)
There’s a great scene, set at Atari in 1976, also in the Walter Isaacson biography, in which his boss tells Jobs, then a fruitarian, that people complain about his “odor” and that he has to wear shoes. “You gotta learn to work with other people,” the boss says. "You’re good, but you’re an asshole.”
Job starts working at night, and tries to create the best game ever. But he’s not a coder, so he brings in his old friend Wozniak to work on the boards. Steve is getting paid $5,000 for the job, and ends up giving Woz $350. (Half of the $700 Jobs claims he’s making.)
And the movie starts building momentum and gets good at this point. There’s a funny scene in the car as he and Woz head to the Home Brew Computer Club to show their new invention. Steve says they need a name. Woz keeps suggesting Trekkie names, like “Enterprise Computers.”
As they plod along, creating their earliest prototypes (and packing them in white cardboard boxes), we get perhaps the first-ever montage that makes the building of motherboards look really sexy.
And there’s the whole garage scene, much fabricated, but showing Jobs' genius at design and OCD-level ability at sales, promotion, and negotiation. He calls a VC from Atari 150 times before the guy came to see him.
Once the company gets underway at the campus in Cupertino, Steve’s insensitivity and warp speed is wrapped up in the metaphor of him flooring his Mercedes into a handicapped parking space.
We do get a sense of the radical ease-of-use, never-stop-innovating mantra. We see his genius, but also how he wears out everyone in his path. What Jobs does after he was fired -- which allowed him to come up with the software for the iPod -- is glossed over. Meanwhile, this film introduces us to a new genre: the techno-novela.
Still, in the end, the movie is probably better advertising for Apple than the ad work the company is doing right now.
Perhaps ironically, “Here’s to the Crazy Ones,” that Emmy-Award-winning spot that included the likes of Einstein and Gandhi, was a place-holder so that Apple could stay in the public eye and energize its artist base while there was no actual merch to sell.
The company is in a similar holding pattern now, with new versions of the iPhone and iPad set to be revealed soon. Perhaps those devices will prove exciting enough so that just showing them in ads will revive the cult of Cupertino,
But the biggest problem, image-wise, is that no one at Apple in California can call himself a rebel or a renegade, anymore.