Monday, August 29, 2011

I hate you, Steve Jobs.

Now I realize a headline like that requires immediate explanation, particularly in light of the media love fest that ensued following Jobs' resignation last week, so allow me to elaborate.

In 1993 I was hired to work on the Apple Computer account. The new Creative Director at BBDO (Apple's agency at the time) had read some long copy ads I had written for Nissan and lured me away with the promise of career-making opportunities. Oh and a ton of BBDO money. He thought my snappy, sometimes cheeky, narrative style would be a healthy addition to the talented staff of writers already working on Apple.

He was wrong.

I had every confidence I could capture the Apple voice. (A lot of clients think their brands have a voice, they don't. Apple is one of the few that does. ) The problem was that distinctive voice was established in the early 80's when Apple was at Chiat/Day. And when Steve Jobs was at the helm.

In 1993, Steve was nowhere near 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA. In 1993, the caretakers of Apple -- and the Apple voice -- were a team of clueless, corporate bureaucrats who were fond of committees, task forces and task force committees. They took the notion of decentralization to a weird and not-so-wonderful place. The kind of place that makes modern day Somalia look like the pinnacle of efficiency. Every decision was labored. Reconsidered. And reprocessed. Until it was successfully transformed into an indecision.

I'll give you an example.

One night I was held captive in the office until 1:00 AM (This was not at all unusual for anybody working on the Apple account). I was awaiting feedback on copy I had written for a 10-page insert that was to run in the Wall Street Journal. The copy literally had to meet the approval of a dozen different marketing "managers" (quotation marks inserted with great disdain).

In one of the emails I had received, one particularly well-crafted paragraph came back marked in red. With some colorful commentary from the Apple Brand Manager. "We can't say this. And even if we could, we wouldn't. This is not written well at all. Please redo."

Crushing, right?

But two minutes later, I received another email, from a different "manager" and that same paragraph was marked in blue. It too was footnoted, "This is the best copy I have ever seen. If we do nothing else in this insert, this paragraph of copy has to get published."

Mind you, it was one o'clock in the morning and I had no idea of the management hierarchy and whose supervision superseded who. Nor did I have any idea of how to proceed.

I only knew that at times like these, when mushy-minded technocrats ruled the day, I would have been happy to endure the clear-headed leadership of someone more mercurial.
Someone more demanding.
Someone, ironically enough, more capable of binary thinking.
But someone like that wouldn't come back until 1997.

For not being CEO of Apple when I was working on the account,  I hate you, Steve Jobs.

1 comment:

Lara P said...

Ha love this. I worked on Apple at the same time at BBDO Toronto. Susan W & Chris W who I met years later working at Ogilvy on IBM said Apple was the hardest client they'd worked for, everyone had this perception they were great clients.