In a world where competition is often seen as combat, there’s nothing more delightful than watching the other guy squirm.
This video is a good example. Microsoft Windows president Steve Sinofsky’s mid-demo crash of the Surface tablet during the “big unveil” last week now has garnered 3 million views in a week. That’s over three times as many hits as the presentation itself — and over twice as many as Steve Jobs’ iPad 2 presentation has accumulated in over a year.
Good moments just don’t attract a crowd like good moments gone bad. But then Sinofsky added to the allure with his own little bit of performance art. Note how he does a little bunny-hop to the back of the stage to pick up a backup unit — almost as if no one would notice.
Of course no one is immune to demo crashes. They’re a part of life in the technology biz. Steve Jobs certainly endured more than one technology failure, as you can see in this 11-minute collection. There’s a famous one at the 1:10 mark, where Steve can’t get the camera working and literally throws it to an Apple person in the first row of the audience. (The odds on that guy keeping his job didn’t look good.)
It’s how one handles a crash that separates the men from the boys. Steve Jobs’ style was such that he didn’t normally try to hide things. More often than not, he’d acknowledge the issue and move on. This Microsoft moment probably could have used a touch of honesty.
Even though Steve was a fierce competitor, he actually drew the line at taking advantage of competitors’ demo woes. I remember one time during the “think different” years when Bill Gates suffered a terrible failure demoing a new Microsoft technology. We at the agency thought it would make a very funny commercial for Apple. It seemed like an idea being handed to us on a silver platter. We would simply show Gates failing and end the ad with a clever line about Apple.
Steve laughed — but he rejected it immediately. He said that demo crashes are an unavoidable part of the business, and that his own demos could fail as easily as Gates’. He didn’t want to taunt Gates for something that was beyond his control. (He was, however, eager to taunt the man for all the things he did on purpose.)
But times have changed. Companies don’t have to worry so much about being embarrassed by their competitors on TV. Thanks to YouTube, they can do a pretty good job of embarrassing themselves.