Zen & The Art Of Apple Maintenance

Last December, I wrote a column about Samsung’s surprisingly deft advertising swat against Apple’s swaggeringly superior branding operation. The surprise to me was how vulnerable Apple had become, image-wise, in the relatively short time since Steve Jobs’ death.

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.

13 comments about "Zen & The Art Of Apple Maintenance".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, September 5, 2013 at 10:46 a.m.

    We tell people all the time that a strategy is not copy. But they went and did that anyway.

  2. Barbara Lippert from, September 5, 2013 at 11:56 a.m.

    Exactly. They ran the brief.

  3. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, September 5, 2013 at 12:10 p.m.

    NOT bad sometimes to run the strategy. "Brief" is a Britishism that was imported here sometime in the 80s. Example of running the strategy:
    Avis is only #2. So why go with us?
    For years, Avis has been telling you it's only number 2. Now we're going to tell you why.
    BMW. The Ultimate Driving Machine.
    Problem is strategies are usually so lame and conjured by people who can't see the obvious that the writers and art directors have to kid the strategists into thinking they are following some "brief."
    The great advertising above was all created by the very who evolved the strategy so they didn't need to kid anyone.

  4. STEVE CLIMONS from Crosssover Creative, September 5, 2013 at 12:54 p.m.

    I wanted to go see the movie now this makes me wonder like the new ads...

  5. Barbara Lippert from, September 5, 2013 at 2 p.m.

    I forgot to add: while watching the movie, every few minutes I said to myself, okay, what year is this, and why didn't I buy the stock then?

  6. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, September 5, 2013 at 3:53 p.m.

    Not for Apple (I don't own any), but my usual thought is why didn't I sell the stock then?

  7. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis, September 5, 2013 at 5:36 p.m.

    Appreciate your observations and the connections you made from the Jobs/Apple history to the current situation. It gives people (like me) a context to better understand events and trends in our tech-driven lives.
    (But I could not sit through 120 minutes of Ashton Kutcher)

  8. Mark Hornung from Bernard Hodes Group, September 5, 2013 at 6:01 p.m.

    I, too, saw "Jobs" and actually enjoyed it. I am from Silicon Valley, and actually met Jobs, Woz and Mike Markkula, Andy Herzfeld, Gil Amelio, John Sculley, and Bill Atkinson over the years. I think the film captured the sense of those times, and my wife and I found it quite nostalgic. My complaint was with the ellipses in the narrative, but then I realized few outside of the Valley would care that the NeXT OS was based on UNIX and therefore was more stable and easier to... er, ooops, forgive me. Never mind. ;-)

  9. Barbara Lippert from, September 5, 2013 at 6:15 p.m.

    @Mark--Yes, once it got going it was enjoyable -- but those LSD scenes were painful! And I agree that all those guy like Gil Amelio and John Sculley were portrayed accurately .(The riding up in leathers on the motorcycle never happened, tho.) And I totally agree about NeXT, and they never mentioned Pixar. (The denying stock stuff was accurate, but they didn't explain that Woz gave some of his to the people that Jobs cruelly left out.) Also, they show him introducing the 1984 spot, but don't mention that the board hated it and wanted Chiat day to sell it off before it ran on the Super Bowl....

  10. Barbara Lippert from, September 5, 2013 at 6:19 p.m.

    @Mark-- oh, and speaking of ellipses in the narrative, there's another movie in the works being written by Aaron "Social Network" Sorkin. And it will consist of just three scenes from Jobs' life!

  11. Patrick Scullin from Ames Scullin O'Haire, inc., September 5, 2013 at 8:27 p.m.

    If anyone has a radar gun handy, might want to get a reading on the RPM at Steve's gravesite as a result of the lame advertising since his exit.

  12. Mark Hornung from Bernard Hodes Group, September 6, 2013 at 10:47 a.m.

    Barbara - the way I heard it, even Jobs had cold feet about the "1984" spot and it was only the relationship with Lee Clow that saved it. Agree that not mentioning that Woz shared his stock was a major omission, in that it showed the gulf between the two former partners. Love Sorkin's work (can't get enough of "Newsroom"). Looking forward to his take on Jobs. @Patrick - LOL. If anyone says Cupertino is haunted, we'll know who the spirit is!

  13. Patricia Friedlander from Word-Up!, September 10, 2013 at 3:08 p.m.

    Brilliant, Barbara! and kudos for sitting through the movie. You're tough!

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