Bezos' Brain - And Other Anomalies

Jeff Bezos: “Let me show you something.”

Charlie Rose: “Oh, man…Oh, my God!”

That five-second clip, showing Charlie Rose opening a door, was teased all weekend on CBS, in the walk-up to the greatest 15 minutes of sponsored content ever to appear on “60 Minutes.” (Except Amazon got the editorial gratis.)

“Over the last month,” Charlie said in his breathless introduction, “’60 Minutes’ was granted unprecedented access inside Amazon’s operations. If you have ever wondered what happens after you’ve clicked and placed an order on Amazon, take a look. If there is such a thing as Santa’s workshop, this would be it.”

Granted, Bezos, who with this bit of “60 Minutes” manipulation has shown beyond-P.T. Barnum levels of PR genius, is famously into “disruption”; he can be very persuasive and charismatic. Still, I found it shocking that the already beleaguered news magazine, still suffering its credibility gap over serious errors discovered in Lara Logan’s Benghazi story, would be so eager to throw journalistic ethics out the window in the service of Bezos’ “OMG!” reveal.

After all, 30 years ago, when Apple announced the coming of the Macintosh, its own world-changer of a product, the young company bought expensive advertising time on the Super Bowl to do so. Steve Jobs also spent heavy-duty bucks in order to get Ridley Scott to direct. Thus Chiat/Day’s “1984” turned into a cinematic tour-de-force, a groundbreaker often referred to as the best commercial of all time.

By contrast, all Bezos had to do was work up a little in-house demo video, showing a friendly little prototype drone (aka “octocopter”) dropping its package, stork-like, into the surreally empty front yard of an awesome lakeside house.  A teen with rolled-up jeans, circa James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause,” is shown calmly walking outside to collect the blessed parcel -- aka a “skate tool.”

Next thing we know, it’s Amazon-mania in the Thunder Drone!

Amazon got 4 million orders a minute and collected $60 billion in revenue the next day, although still did not turn a profit. And I made up all those numbers -- because I’ve never seen a PR move so brilliantly capture America’s imagination.

“Men have become the tool of their tools,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in “Walden.” And we have become the tools of Jeff Bezos.

Yes, I know I am standing in the way of progress here, but what I couldn’t get past was the idea of harnessing such complex technology in the service of something so trivial.  Really, do we need to release the stern electric birds so that I can get my Swiffer sweeper refills in 30 minutes?

But the presentation resonated deeply, in part because of Bezos’ appearance. I don’t know when he started shaving his head, but it’s like a literal cartoon lightbulb that gets red and flashes when it’s full of new ways to conquer the world. He looks like a combination of Dr. Evil, maybe a little of the Golum – and, as Stephen Colbert pointed out, like one of Richard Scarry’s one-legged worms in “Busytown.”  It’s a head that gets attention, that says “big learnings,” in Silicon Valley-speak.

And you don’t have to be Dr. Freud to understand that the big reveal represents two major themes: flight and birth, or, more symbolically, freedom and renewal.

Creating these cute little consumer drones, Bezos uses technology that previously represented everything grim, all the mistakes we’ve made in war -- death and hellfire for innocent civilians -- and turned it into a luxury robot, a private butler there to meet our every request.

Flying dreams symbolize a sense of freedom -- a release from the pressures of the real world. Think Peter Pan, or the Jetsonian flying cars we still pine for.  There’s a reason flying toasters took off as the image for one of the first screen savers, the ultimate old-school workaday item getting set free. There’s also something heart-stopping about the idea of swarms of  things “taking off (you can almost hear Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries in the background) after pressing a button.

Then there’s the birth angle. On some subconscious level, these “delivery systems” really seem to do the work of the stork, carrying the new little package in its mouth, preternaturally aware of which house is expecting a “new baby.” It offers renewal, the promise that with each item, we can change our lives and start over, which is the basis of the American dream.

Now contrast that to the earlier part of the piece, which explained the numbingly boring particulars of the fulfillment business. Here’s a quote from Amazon executive Dave Clark, walking Charlie through the factory floor: “And we have computers and algorithmic work that tells people the areas of the building that have the most space to put product in that’s coming in at that time.” Zzzzzz. That part made the fulfillment of our fantasies even more dramatic.

Of course, Bill Gates put it kindly when he said the talk of the Amazon drone delivery business is “overly optimistic.” (And at least 10 years away.)

But in the meantime, Bezos used his brain to offer up a consumer dream at a time when we needed to fall for something hook, line and Swiffer.

Tags: amazon, tv
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13 comments about "Bezos' Brain - And Other Anomalies".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , December 4, 2013 at 1:35 p.m.
    If Amazon is not making a profit how is Bezos so OTT filthy rich beyond the beyond ? He doesn't share, people. Wouldn't be surprised if this was sort of a scam for PR. Between legal and insurance, the cost would drown/down your swiffties. It wasn't the drone, it was the pigeon that the drone hit that knocked you out. American eagles: move over. Animals beware. And talk about sefishies.....
  2. Judy Colbert from Tuff Turtle , December 4, 2013 at 1:56 p.m.
    Am I the only cynic who thinks the octocopter business is an unveiled threat to the USPS about their prices? Really? Millions of octocopters flying around, bumping into each other, using Google maps that take them to the wrong address?
  3. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications , December 4, 2013 at 4:08 p.m.
    Call it a commercial if you want but know that everything Amazon does and says is news...be it commercial news and everyone wants to hear all about it...
  4. Paul Van winkle from FUNCTION , December 4, 2013 at 5:08 p.m.
    What could be better PR for the UAV and drone industry? "One click, and deliver death and surveillance (and consumer goods) from the sky." As if $33 billion isn't enough - and it clearly isn't for bottomless holes - Bezos took a giant step and supported/merged with the military industrial complex -- that's where there's still the Promised Land of More Profits, where there's Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, Predator and Reaper drones, BAE Systems and the many smaller competitors and suppliers all using The Everything Store to pimp their new robotic rides. Drone markets are (literally) exploding and drones're the Everything Store's Do Everything Toy. The UAV industry claims it'll create 100,000 jobs and contribute $82 billion toward the GDP in under 12 years - if the FAA hits its 2015 target date and opens up the skies. Bezos just put a smiley face on a sore subject, did a happy drive-by marketing IED blast for drone acceptance. He's a made guy.
  5. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , December 4, 2013 at 5:46 p.m.
    Also, brilliant way to steer the conversation away from paying taxes or paying hourly workers more.
  6. Feminista Fan from The Past, Present and Future , December 4, 2013 at 9:29 p.m.
    The point of using drones or talking about using drones isn't about speed of delivery it's about market share. Customers used to be excited to shop in a deparent store when they were the latest thing. Then shopping on line felt so much more modern. It has been nearly 30 years since Compuserve offered us the chance to buy things on our computer and 10 years since a term like "cyber Monday", coined when people's access to a speedy internet existed only at work, became obsolete. Now consumers need a new thrill and that might be an octocopter delivering stuff to our door. What Bezos gets at his core is the importance of user experience above almost everything else.
  7. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , December 5, 2013 at 10:35 a.m.
    Great point, Feminista. He certainly infiltrated the day in a scary mind game way!
  8. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications , December 5, 2013 at 10:47 a.m.
    There are a lot of people talking about the drones bumping into each other and dropping on heads and other things, why not wait and see what the technology will be like in five or ten years...
  9. Kevin Horne from Lairig Marketing , December 5, 2013 at 5:45 p.m.
    The only difference between Charlie Rose's wonderment at how the Internet works and Pres. Bush #1 seeing his first grocery scanner? = 21 years.
  10. Michael Deane from Modern Times Film Company , December 5, 2013 at 6:15 p.m.
    I've always been a bit cynical about "broadcast journalism" even when CBS trots out the memory of Edward R. Murrow (who I think did his best work on RADIO). 60 Minutes has become embarrassingly bad since Don Hewitt died. And lightweights like Anderson Cooper and Lara Logan really have no place there. But I was really surprised to see Charlie Rose stick his nose that far up Jeff Bezo's butt. Is Rose a stockholder? Egads it was pathetic...
  11. Brian Quinn from Triad Retail Media , December 5, 2013 at 7:12 p.m.
    Such a brilliant PR move! OMG...they are letting us into the secret room!!... But they still won't tell is how many Kindles they sell? The orchestration of this by AMZN was AMZN-G! Finally... methinks that if Mike Wallace was assigned to this... AMZN says "no thanks".
  12. George Parker from Parker Consultants , December 5, 2013 at 9:34 p.m.
    Barbara... 60 Minutes has been used before to pimp companies with dubious products and services. I can't go into the details, 'cos I'll get sued shitless... But will email you. Cheers/George
  13. Michael Porte from The Field (social), WheresSpot , December 10, 2013 at 6:01 p.m.
    Nice job Barbara, I was wondering when someone would call this what it was.. brilliant marketing! Free media, BS shined up to look like the future... Congrats to Bezos! he out did himself, laughing all the way to the corporate coffers! And if you buy the octo-coptor, i've got flights available to the moon - coming soon to an airport near you! Michael Porte