The frustrated Steve Jobs

Like many, I have a habit of idealizing the “good old days” with Steve Jobs.

Keep in mind that I’m an ad guy. It’s incredibly rare that people like me get to work directly with the CEO, and even more rare that the CEO is so passionate about doing great work.

So when I look back, I tend to romanticize even the difficult times, even though I know darn well that the tense moments were … well, tense. Especially with Steve.

Need an example?

Return with me now to the thrilling days of yesteryear, as the color iMacs were about to be unveiled.

On this particular day, Steve had apparently been on a call with a guy named Wayne (I have no memory of him), and Wayne was having a problem finalizing photography to be used in Steve’s upcoming Macworld presentation.

Since I was responsible for the creative work at the ad agency, Steve tried to solve this problem in real-time by adding me to the call — but got my answering machine instead. No doubt this ticked him off even more.

When I got home that day, I got a classic Steve message. What I love about it is that it started so calmly, then steadily escalated into a fury. I didn’t save the recording, but at least I had the foresight to transcribe it.Continue reading…

The making of Apple’s HAL

I used to devote hours to feverishly writing up my annual Super Bowl ad review. And then, one day, the thrill was gone.

Between the lack of surprise (so many spots are released early now) and the general mediocrity, it became more chore than fun.

That said, I refuse to lose my Big Game spirit. So — how about a little story from Apple’s Super Bowl past?

What follows is the tale of HAL: Apple’s 1999 Super Bowl commercial starring the malevolent computer from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

HAL became Apple’s first Super Bowl appearance since 1985, when the ill-conceived Lemmings commercial ran. That, as you know, was the follow-up to the previous year’s amazing 1984 commercial — arguably the greatest commercial of all time.

Read on if you’re interested in learning how ads were often born in Steve Jobs’s Apple. The process was not at all like what you find in most big companies today (including Apple).Continue reading…

The wacky world of legal disclaimers

Seriously — an article about legal type in advertising?

Granted, the topic may seem a bit dry. But hang with me. Those microscopic lines of text often have their own sordid backstory, filled with intrigue, deception and blatant bending of the rules.

Even Apple gets into the act.

So, where to begin? Exhibit A, above, is taken from a Rate.com commercial now running incessantly on CNN.

We can all agree it contains a boatload of legal type, and that no earthly being will ever read more than a few words of it.

This may be within the rules, but clearly it is far outside the bounds of common sense.

Which leads one to ask: what are the rules anyway? Hard to say, but every TV network does have a screening process to ensure that ads meet their standards for ethics and accuracy.

Personally, I think common sense makes an excellent standard. To be fair to marketers and consumers, legal disclaimers should pass three tests.

1. Legibility
2. Honesty
3. Brevity

Rate.com grossly and obscenely violates two out of three. (Kudos for the honesty!)Continue reading…

The lawlessness of political advertising

Every election year, I am re-amazed by one of the more amazing things I learned in my advertising life.

That is, there is one set of rules for consumer ads and no set of rules for political ads.

Want to run a TV ad for your toilet cleanser? It will have to be cleared by the network’s “ethics and standards” group. No false or misleading claims allowed about your product or your competitor’s.

Want to run a TV commercial for your political candidate? No lawmen here, so have at it. Lies, half-truths and conspiracy theories are welcome.

While the networks act as a watchdog for consumer advertising, the Federal Trade Commission actually brings action against violators. They have a nice little set of punishments, including cease-and-desist orders, fines, frozen assets and compensation for those affected by fraud.

On their website, the FTC says,“The FTC looks especially closely at advertising claims that can affect consumers’ health or their pocketbooks.”

Hmm. It’s not like a presidential candidate can affect our health or pocketbook, right?Continue reading…