Nov 11

Steve Jobs talks PC vs. TV

Fortune blogger Philip Elmer-DeWitt uncovered this gem recently — a segment of Steve Jobs’ appearance at the CAUSE 1998 Conference in Seattle.

The video quality is terrible, and the black turtleneck plays second fiddle to a shirt. But the clip is interesting on a few levels.

First, Steve gives one of his more animated performances. At certain points, it’s almost as if he’s trying out a comedy act — and the audience does its part, sounding much like a laugh track. The speech does have substance though. In it, Steve puts television in its place. “TV turns your brain off, PCs turn your brain on,” he says.

Few people would know this, but Steve didn’t exactly pull that thought out of mid-air. He was actually re-purposing the script from an iMac campaign that never saw the light of day.

Right after we signed Jeff Goldblum, we shot a number of iMac commercials in which Jeff repeatedly drove home the point that iMac was for turning your brain on, while TV was for turning your brain off. In one spot, Jeff walked a path littered with old TVs as he spoke. In another, he sat with a bunch of children on the floor, all gathered around an iMac. The theme of the campaign was “iMac. It’s not TV.”

Why did the ads never run? In the end, they just weren’t good enough. Fortunately, on our last shooting day, when we were beginning to feel like we might need a Plan B, we wrote a quick script and shot a test spot featuring Jeff speaking directly to the camera. It worked great. With Steve’s enthusiastic approval, we grabbed a new director and shot the Jeff Goldblum spots that ultimately did run.

I was unaware that Steve had ever used the “brain on, brain off” argument publicly until I saw this video. I’m glad he was able to find a good use for it — especially since it cost him a pretty good chunk of cash.


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  • http://www.thomasqbrady.com Thomas Q Brady

    Someone PLEASE remix this with the Seinfeld theme…

  • http://fortune.com/apple20 Philip Elmer-DeWitt

    Thanks for the plug. How ’bout a link?

  • http://spinchange.com Chris

    I did a paper for a Jr. college media studies course on “convergence” and interactive television right after this event and cited his remarks in it. I got an A.

  • Synth

    “I was unaware that Steve had ever used the “brain on, brain off” argument publicly until I saw this video. ”

    I clearly remember Steve using that phrase in some keynote, interview or some product introduction but I can’t remember where.

  • Scott

    I’d love to see the commercials that never aired. Any chance they might be in the Observatory vault somewhere?

  • ken segall

    You got it.

    I don’t doubt that. If Steve used these words here, it’s quite possible he used them elsewhere. I trust my memory only so far.

    They’d be fun to see, but unfortunately I didn’t keep copies of those things. What was I thinking?

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