Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs died this week at the age of 56. Though Jobs’ long battle with pancreatic cancer was well chronicled and his recent frailty much remarked upon, the announcement elicited gasps in the tech world and beyond. The computer pioneer, after all, was also a showman, famous for leading media audiences to think an event was at its end, only to bring the typically jaded press to its feet with a carefully planned and irresistible encore act.
In 2007 we spoke with Wired Magazine blogger Peter Mortensen, who himself had just been swept up in the Jobs-staged introduction of the iPhone.
At about 9 in the morning, James Brown comes on with I Feel Good. The crowd sort of starts rumbling.
[I FEEL GOOD/UP AND UNDER]
There are gigantic video screens all over the place. The lights dim, and Steve Jobs emerges. People go nuts. And he goes into what his typical script for introducing products is. He talks a little bit about the success Apple has had, touches on existing products a little bit, and then starts heading toward new stuff.
In particular this time, there was the Apple TV, which was previously announced as the iTV last fall. It was expected. People knew about this. Then he stopped silent, the screen fades and an Apple logo, inspired by the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey comes on the screen. I don't think they started playing Also Sprach Zarathustra –
- but it wouldn't have been out of place. And he says, “Welcome. We're gonna make some history today.” And everybody in the audience buys it - the people who are paying to be there and therefore have a greater vested stake in believing this, the people who are friends with Apple and just want to believe it, and the journalists who are there not to believe it.
And he then says, “Apple has an amazing tradition of introducing truly revolutionary products.”
[SOUND OF JOBS’ VOICE]
“And today we're going to introduce three such products.” And there are gasps all over.
- revolutionary products of this class.
The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls.
Second, a revolutionary new phone, and third, a breakthrough communications device for the Internet.
And, of course, it isn't three products but, in fact, it's one product.
And we are calling it iPhone.
Today, today Apple is going to reinvent the phone.
When the 2,000 journalists are standing there in the midst of this frenzy, what happens to their skepticism?
As soon as he held up the actual iPhone, it all dropped away, and everyone wanted one. It's embarrassing but you can't help but feel sucked into it.
You actually write a column devoted to the whole idea that Apple isn't so much a company as a cult with a ticker symbol. How does a company achieve this status? Is it because they're masters of presentation or just because they consistently deliver the goods?
It's all of the above, and it's also a third piece, which is that they're massively secretive. So essentially, they tend to let journalists, pundits and their fans do all of their PR for them.
In fairness, the iPod was a genuinely revolutionary product, so I guess the press could be forgiven for at least giving this guy a good listen.
And perhaps because they did underestimate the iPod when it was introduced. I remember in early 2001 Steve Jobs announced that he was going to bring forth a breakthrough digital device, and people got really excited. Was this gonna be a teleportation box? You know, they, they were just going wild.
And then he brought it out, and it was an MP3 player. And not only was it an MP3 player, it was a $500 MP3 player.
And the world just rolled its eyes. And six years later, it really has changed multiple industries. So I think there might be a little bit of retroactive apology, so that now people do buy completely into his hype because they underestimated him the last time.
Marketing strategist and author, Peter Mortensen.
And an appropriate eulogist he is, however inadvertently, because Steve Jobs was himself deemed worthy of the marketing pantheon.
[CLIP: APPLE SUPERBOWL COMMERCIAL]
On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984.
That's from Apple's iconic 1984 Super Bowl ad titled “1984.” By pitting a lone iconoclastic woman against a hall full of slack-jawed drones in the thrall of a bellicose Big Brother, Apple announced its new Macintosh as a heroic choice. The IBM PC was hardware for the masses of brainwashed conformists, and the new Mac was a tool of liberation.
The commercial, directed by Ridley Scott, was riveting and breathtaking. But more important was the extraordinarily enduring “us against them” message that helped coalesce a veritable cult.
People didn't buy Apple products, they bought into the Apple ethos, even as the enemy morphed from IBM to Microsoft, and now increasingly Google, Apple wasn't just a company. It was a movement.
Yet, though for 28 years in front of advertising audiences I've declared “1984” to be the greatest commercial ever made, it wasn't until recently that I understood its central genius. And that is, it was true! Not just shrewd, not just potent or emotionally true, but literally true.
Sure, cunning marketers often play to the iconoclastic psychology of certain target audiences - not hard to flatter random college students and graphic designers and hipsters as heroic subversives.
But that's just marketing. Steve Jobs, it turns out, lived up to his advertised image. He was a bona fide revolutionary, who, with the Mac, liberated his customers from DOS. later he would use digital technology, not to speed up and cheapen the cell animation but to Pixar it into near irrelevance.
Then with the iPod he consigned to the recording industry and much of terrestrial radio into similar near oblivion.
His iPhone revolutionized the hand-held world, and his iPad is only just beginning to alter publishing on a grand scale. And with each such effort he pried the thumb of some Big Brother-like monopolist off our slavish selves.
He was Moses in a turtleneck, leading millions to deliverance. He didn't intuit our desires. He invented our desires. As he famously explained, it's not the consumers’ job to know what they want.
The consumer didn't know what she wanted but she knew it when she saw it, and she used it, like the babe with the track and field hammer in the 1984 spot, to send Big Brother up in n smoke.
[CLIP/THE BEATLES’ REVOLUTION]:
You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution...
[REVOLUTION UP AND UNDER]
That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman, Chris Neary and Laura Mare, with more help from Doug Anderson and Gianna Palmer, and edited – by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Dylan Keefe.
Katya Rogers is our senior producer. Ellen Horne is WNYC’s senior director of National Programs. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.