My "Story About Steve" in Business Week

[Video Link] BusinessWeek asked me to write my "Story About Steve." I never met Steve, but I had a story to tell. Here it is.

In May 2002 I got a call from my friend Alberta who asked if I'd like to be in an Apple TV commercial. Alberta had a friend who was an art director at Apple, and he needed people in Los Angeles who'd switched from a Windows machine to a Mac. That was me.

The next day, I got calls from Apple and Chiat/Day, and they e-mailed me a thick stack of forms to sign. Most of them swearing me to secrecy.

The day after that, I drove 15 minutes to a soundstage in Hollywood. At least 100 people from Apple and Chiat/Day were on the set. Errol Morris, the director, was hiding inside a white tent on the far end of the warehouse-like soundstage. I could hear his voice booming through an amplifier. Someone on the set told me he was using his invention called the Interrotron to interview the switchers. "Just wait until you see how it works," she said.

My taping was scheduled for 12 p.m. I was a little early, so I grabbed a bagel from craft services and looked for a place to sit. All the chairs on the set were occupied, but not by people. The Chiat/ Day workers had set their laptops and backpacks on all the chairs with hand-drawn signs that said "DON'T TOUCH." I asked a young woman in a smart gray outfit where I could sit. "Someplace outside," she said.

Read the rest: Mark Frauenfelder: My Story About Steve


      1. Nah, I just hadn’t thought about these vapid commercials in a while.  I mean, if I had done one of these in the past, I probably would hope it was forgotten.  Why would I want people to see me be inarticulately critical, yet smug, while dopey music plays?

        The point of this ad campaign was to entice people who didn’t get computers, who were confused by computers, to identify with person in the ad.  They wanted to transform confusion into a virtuous “I’m too good to use a lesser computer.” attitude.  (A lesser computer being one I am confused by.)

        It’s a brilliant ad, but its an ad.  People believe them to be true.  The brilliance about Apple’s advertising is that they don’t see it as an ad, they see it as a documentary.

        1. “Inarticulately critical”? I thought the bad relationship joke was actually quite witty: I’d have thought it scripted if I hadn’t known otherwise, and Mark an actor. What sort of witty, Wildean aperçus drop from your lips when you’re on camera?

          1. It is witty, but its not articulate.  None of these commercials point out specific things they don’t like about their PC.  Like how Mark says “there’s just a clunkyness to it.”  What does that mean?

            It’s like if you were going to critique a book and you said “There’s just a general badness to it, it reminds me of my old girlfriend.”

            What does that mean?  It’s just hemming and hawing about how you don’t like something.  He even says “I had all my stuff on it.”  Which seems good right?  But no, somehow he didn’t like having all his stuff on it.

            It seems cute, but doesn’t stand up to analysis.  I just didn’t imagine Mark did commercials for giant companies where he portrays himself as someone who doesn’t seem to know a lot about various products.

          2. Trolls gotta troll, don’t they?

            EDIT: realized the ambiguousness of my comment, and wanted to make sure you knew it wasn’t directed at you :)

          3. I do understand where you’re coming from with this criticism, but I think it’s misplaced.

            Have you used a Windows system extensively? Then you know what he meant by “clunkiness” – yeah it’s not a specific complaint, but it means a lot more! If you don’t regularly use Windows, then you weren’t the target of the ad, so they’re basically not talking to you and don’t care if you don’t understand what he meant by “clunkiness”.

            Then, you clearly missed the point of the entire bad relationship metaphor. Yeah, he had all his stuff in it. If you don’t like “it” – because it’s clunky etc. – this is only “good” in that it’s convenient to just leave it there – like it’s often convenient to stay in a bad relationship so you don’t have to find a new place to live and move all your stuff (i.e. exactly the same as switching to a whole new computer with a different operating system, for those of us who have “all our stuff” on our computers). But then when you finally make the move, you’re incredibly relieved and you wonder why you didn’t do it much sooner (I’m just repeating what he said in the ad, now).

          4. Many philosophers of art have struggled with the concept of “sublime” in aesthetics, which you can easily identify on an experiential level, but cannot satisfactorily define. ‘Clunkiness’ in UX is quite similar in this regard. Or, to quote Potter Stewart “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”

            Admittedly, “sublime”, “clunky”, “pornographic”, etc. are unlikely to be universal understandings, but neither are they imagined or purely subjective. Maybe it just has to do with the different ways our brains are wired…

          5. I disagree brillow I think the ad conveyed exactly what it needed to for the market it was trying to capture. How do you convince Windows users to switch to a Mac? Most people use the same OS they learned on because it is comfortable, but somehow you have to capture what is “uncomfortable” about something in a way where people are like “oh yea, I kinda feel like that too, like it is “clunky” to use because of XYZ”… the XYZ are almost always going to be different so in an ad you’re not going to say “switch to Mac because a Windows machine has keyboard keys that stick”… how many people have had that happen? You have to be vague, and general, but creative enough in your verbiage for people to be like “yea I have never been able to pinpoint it either but it DOES kinda suck doesn’t it, I want a Mac!” That’s what Mark did here, brilliantly! He pulled people in by using analogies everyone could relate to (clunky, and bad relationship) and alluded to the fact that “finally I had had it, no more Windows for me”… the viewer would easily relate these to potential difficulties or uneasiness they have also had and think “maybe I should switch.” This was perfect, perfect advertising. Steve obviously, was a genius (and Mark you’re not so bad yourself! ;-)

  1. That’s so weird, I’ve been reading this blog and commenting for years and I never connected you with the “switcher” ad. So THAT’s why I always felt you looked familiar.

    …and kudos on the ad. In my former life doing advertising, I dealt with C/D once or twice, and while they had a ton of great people working for them… Lord were they a pain en masse.

    I think this is a great ad because it went to the heart of why a lot of people have “switched” over the years: it isn’t any one event, it’s a pattern of semi-trivial yet constantly annoying little issues that adds up to a general miasma of disgust and annoyance.

    While I’m at it, thanks for BB, I really like this place.

      1. Thank you, Mark! I enjoyed your story as much for the clown car that is a commercial shoot as I did for the punch line with Jobs. Great stuff.

  2. That’s a really fantastic, unique story Mark. It definitely sticks out as one of the most memorable ones I’ve heard in the last days Jobs Memorial Media Deluge. You also did a great job of explaining what making commercials is actually like. My job often has me escorting clients to commercial shoots, and it is 95% waiting for something to happen.

    One thing I’m extremely curious about is the “Interrotron”. I have never seen/heard of anyone using tech like that for a commercial. Any insight into why Errol Morris would be doing something so weird?

    1. One thing I’m extremely curious about is the “Interrotron”. I have never seen/heard of anyone using tech like that for a commercial. Any insight into why Errol Morris would be doing something so weird?

      I just finished playing some downloadable content for Fallout: New Vegas, called Dead Money.  For most of the mission, you’re running around doing the bidding of some semi-evil mastermind who has locked an explosive collar around your neck after having you kidnapped.  At the very beginning and right before the very end of the story, you face off against a gigantic hologram of his head while he berates you.

      So, while reading Mark’s story, I was picturing Errol Morris as a green hologram of Father Elijah.  And I believe I would have performed much worse than Mark did.  That was a pretty solid commercial, though I confess I still haven’t switched.  FWIW, my brother did.

    2. Morris has been using the device for years.  He developed it to address a specific issue he didn’t like about interviewing non-professionals:  their eyeline – where they looked when they spoke –  would either vary widely from moment to moment or they would look at Morris, sitting somewhere away from the camera.  So he built this gizmo similar in principle to a telepromptr.  A piece of glass sits at a 45 degree angle allowing an image to be projected onto the side facing the interviewee while the camera shoots through the other side of the glass.  Because we naturally look at people we’re talking to no coaching is required, not even for children.  Everybody looks right into the lens but they feel like they’re looking into Morris’ face.  I believe the concept has evolved quite a bit since its analog inception.  The image is bigger, the audio is tweaked, etc.  I think they sound awesome and would install them in confessionals and psychiatrists’ offices.

  3. Probably because it would prompt a combination of off-the-cuff remarks (“bad relationship”) through confrontation/weirdness, and then repeating things back would prompt the filmee to expand on the subject they were on.  Just my own wild-ass guess, anyway.

    Just watched the commercial, though, and I’m giggling as I imagine a disembodied head shouting the whole thing back at Mark.

  4. …a lot of people have “switched” over the years: it isn’t any one event, it’s a pattern of semi-trivial yet constantly annoying little issues that adds up to a general miasma of disgust and annoyance.

    There is an alternative. I switched to Linux, and now none of my problems are trivial…

    1. I appreciate Linux on an intellectual level, and if I were doing computer-centric things (file serving, uh, server stuff?) I would give it serious consideration.

      However, everything I do is either optimized for print (adobe CS) or just real-world stuff like email, excel. I love Mac OS and it treats me well, so that’s where I’m at.

  5. I’ve always loved that commercial, Mark!  It’s so you and it completely articulated everything about why the Mac offered a superior user experience.  That whole campaign was brilliant.

    My own Steve stories (I have two) were both from the mid-1990s, when he used to be a lot more visible around downtown Palo Alto.  Once, as I was walking across the street near my home, he came zooming up to do a fast u-turn on his bicycle and nearly ran me over.  The other was when he and I were standing side-by-side picking out (real) apples in the produce section of the Whole Foods grocery store.

  6. Appropriately abrasive, brillo!

    This is an emotional choice for a lot of people. Sometimes technical detail- specific technical detail, is less relevant than the overall feeling. Which just about explains the divide between Mac and PC users, come to think of it.

    I think Mark’s analogy of a bad relationship is brilliant. I sums up the feeling of settling for something that you just know isn’t working that well for you, even if you can’t always put your finger on it. And you have enough invested in it that you hang on, hoping it will get better. Until you meet the right person, and it all falls into place…

    Generally these ads are aimed at people who use computers to do things, very often create things, not for people who program computers. They’re accounts of how specific people describe the improved quality of user experience after switching to their Apple machines. That’s an intangible.  I didn’t find them to be inarticulate, though perhaps you want more specific performance metrics/specs, which is clearly not what this campaign is about.

    I’m not surprised Mark’s was picked first.

  7. I’ve seen dozens of testimonials from industry leaders and influencers in the past day or so. The vast majority begin “I never actually met Steve Jobs”. Never has someone who touched so many actually touched so few.

  8. I still remember your ad Mark. I can see why Steve liked it so much. Tens of thousands of us listened to you say “it’s like a bad relationship,” and we nodded in self recognition: “He’s so right…”

  9. Clunkiness.  It’s pretty clear what this means.  It takes more clicks, more typing, more time, to do the same thing on a PC than you can on a Mac, and sometimes a real long time– such that you don’t even attempt certain avenues on a PC.

    Take a simple example like file indexing.  When you type a word that is the part of a filename or is contained inside a file, the Finder instantaneously gives you the file matches of everything on your harddrive as you type.  To do this, it must have already done the indexing work ahead of time, in background, except I’ve hitherto never noticed any speed degradation on my Mac that I couldn’t account for.  On a Windows machine (when I last was Windows) its a whole different story.  You’re working on something and then suddenly, you’re not– something has taken control of your CPU– you look in the Task List: and there it is, the indexing task being a resource hog. So you turn it off.  Because it’s so annoying to use.  Clunkiness.

    Rebooting. Practically, every time you get a software update– and Microsoft requires oh so many to keep it from being vulnerable from the hordes of 0-day hackers– you have to reboot. Clunky. 

    Updating. While we’re there, when you’re updating, MS has “Important” and “Optional” updates. The “Important” updates are numerous and are described in such a boilerplate way that it always seems like the same critical bug being remedied; the user experience is one of being in an ongoing war. If you have Windows Ultimate, they throw in 90 language keysets in the Optional update area which you have to individually click to hide. All so that the useful Optional updates, should they ever appear, are not then lost in the chaff of the Serbo-Croation and Thai keysets. Clunky.

    And so on.

    Microsoft products abound in these types of speed bumps and thought slavery.  I can hear the Microsoft engineer who wrote it that way saying, “You’ll get used to it; It’s not so bad.”

    So those are our choices:  “insanely great” or “not so bad.”

    1. It takes more clicks, more typing, more time, to do the same thing on a PC than you can on a Mac…

      I would say exactly the opposite. Maybe you just never understood how to work the PC.

      1. I would say exactly the opposite. Maybe you just never understood how to work the PC.


        Step 1: Without looking up instructions, change the clock on your Windows 7 machine from 12 hour to 24 hour time or vice versa.  Time  how long it takes you.

        Step 2: Next time you’re on a Mac, try the same thing again and time it.

        Step 3: Eat your words.

        1. It would take me forever because I’m not used to working on a Mac. Different people can find different systems to be easier without anyone being wrong.

          1. It would take me forever because I’m not used to working on a Mac.

            Not necessarily.  I had no idea how to do it on my OS X machine, and I’m not used to working on it either; but because the interface is pretty intuitive it took me five clicks, a moment’s pause for thought at a choice, and computer processing time of five or six seconds.  I don’t think I’d ever done it on my regular desktop OS either; it was about equally intuitive and it took me *four* clicks, all of them with no waiting; which *proves* in the world of OS spats that my OS must be Even More Awesome.  Or something.  In any case, it’s hardly an everyday task, and I’d have no great objection if it was buried in some  dialogue box somewhere.  I don’t know where it is on Windows 7, but if I used W7 and wanted to change it, I’d find out and I’d change it and that would be that, presumably.

            Different people can find different systems to be easier without anyone being wrong.

            But don’t you know by now that $THEY are intrinsically worse people than $US, and are to be pitied or hated?  Where have you been all these years?

          2. It would take me forever because I’m not used to working on a Mac.

            I don’t think you understood the point I was making.  I’m saying it will take you much longer to figure out how to do this on your Windows 7 machine than on a Mac (even though you’re not used to working with Mac).

            That’s how bad Windows is compared to Macs.  Seriously, try it on both platforms without instructions and see for yourself.  Have an open mind.  ^_^

          3. I’ve had to do things on both a Mac and a PC (albeit a long time ago) and I found the PC much easier. It probably depends on what sort of things you use your computer for. And your basic brain architecture. I certainly didn’t find the Mac to have a more intuitive interface.

        2. One example for a feature most of us will never use won’t win an argument on which OS is better. Personally, I have given ZERO thought to my clock in the last 5 years  or so. I have given more thought to a clock radio by the bed because I have had to reset it. My clock on my computers I simply NEVER have to mess with.

          What I do use everyday, the programs and files, generally take me one click to start. You can’t get much simpler than that.

          Anyway – at one point Mac did have the edge with an easy to use GUI. I think it beat out Windows 95, especially when you had to go back and do something in DOS. I think for the most part Windows has caught up with Mac in most areas. I am sure the users of each will appreciate the idiosyncrasies of their preferred OS than the other.

        3. I have a mac, but I have never changed the clock to 24 hours so I gave it a try. 45 seconds, four clicks. Easy-Peasy

      2. Or maybe you never understood how to work the mac?

        I *am* a computer programmer. I work on a team of computer programmers. We can ask IT for machines with Windows, OS X, or Linux on them. Guess what everyone uses? We are like 80% mac, 15% Linux, 5% Windows.

        There are so many things that are just ridiculously simpler on the mac. Want to change your computer to use French instead of English? On the mac, you go to language settings and select “French”. On windows? You have to install an entirely different version of the OS that’s only in French. Want to switch it back to English? Can’t, have to re-install the English version. There’s an exception — if you paid extra for the “ultimate” version of windows then you can go to a control panel for language settings that doesn’t actually *have* any other languages, that will open up windows update and point you to a page with no languages on it. If you look around for a while, then you can eventually find some language packs, then you have to download one and install it, and then you have to log out, and *then* you can use it in French. If you have the “ultimate” version of Windows.

        Or maybe you want to read a log file that some other program is writing to? The mac lets you. Windows tells you “that file is in use by another program”.

        Or maybe you just want terminal windows that you can resize?

  10. My favorite part of the story is about Morris’ interview style. I’ve heard about the Interrotron before, but asking questions by sarcastically repeating your statements? That’s obnoxious, abrasive, and absolutely brilliant. What a great way to push people to elaborate on what they’re saying and also make them emotionally present in what they’re saying. People will be annoyed or defensive, but they’ll be reacting intensely to the face in front of the camera.

  11. Mark, I like that the story ends with Steve’s invisible hand. It’s a great story about Errol Morris, too. Your ad, Ellen F’s (of course), and Hamilton’s, are the most memorable for me.

  12. Steve Jobs: “Pretty much, Apple and Dell are the only ones in this industry making money. They make it by being Wal-Mart. We make it by innovation.” I remember when Michael Dell made fun of Steve Jobs during the early days of the iCEO announcement, and a reporter asked Jobs for his reaction. “That was a mistake [on Dell’s part]” Steve pointed out the irony that Dell’s build to order website was made with Apple software. Fast forward 14 years later, and Apple’s success has been the best revenge…

  13. That was a cool story. I bet Steve could identify with you and your personality as he watched the video and preferred it for that reason. Your story makes me wonder if Steve ever saw my iPhone protest video that Cory blogged about back in 2007: 
    I did the video anonymously as a protest about Apple blocking jailbreakers and 3rd party app creations with their 1st generation iPhone’s update to 1.1.1.



  14. Great story. Works as equal part anecdote about the man and a little backstage insight into commercial-making. As someone who’s never likely to experience that myself, I always appreciate such things. It’s intriguing to think about how there are always back stories to all those super-mundane things we experience in life – even commercials. :)

  15. Mark, I totally think Jobs wanted your spot to lead for the “bad relationship” line. That’s such a deep thing to say, because you’re basically saying that owning a PC is something that’s psychically grinding you down day after day, making you feel incomplete, resentful, and wishing you had the courage to make a decisive break. People buy a PC because it’s cheaper, but YOU’RE saying, “Yeah, but it bleeds your soul.” It really fits what Jobs himself said in a different way in his Stanford commencement speech.

  16. Antinous, I could propose a challenge:
    We could have the readership propose tasks. I could perform them on my mac, you could use your PC. We could see who finished them faster, with less clicks, or less typing by making screen recordings and posting them to youtube. I propose the first challenge to be, “post a screen recording to youtube”.

    Actually, here you go.

    If you need to install 3rd party software to do that, include the installation process at the beginning of your video.

    1. Or, you could be happy using a Mac, and Antinous could be happy using his PC, and we could all shut the fuck up about how great one is versus the other.  I fix both flavors of OS for a living and they are both absolute shit in the wrong hands.

  17. Windows 7 and OS X 10.6/7 are pretty much a push for ease of use. In fact some folks coming from XP have as difficult a time as people switching from Win to Mac; mostly, it’s easy, but muscle memory will trip you up every so often. 

    The key is that under pressure from OS X’s usability selling point, Redmond switched from being a system developed by engineers largely for engineers to developing a product that had the most extensive field testing and feedback of any OS to date. Apple got there by a small internal design group, Microsoft used extensive public betas. Both ways produced really intuitive OS’s, but one wouldn’t have happened just from the public reception/perception of Vista, but needed that extra push the switcher ads and boot camp provided to spur Redmond to pay attention to the end user experience. 

    I’ve used Macs at home for 26 years, and supported 40+ business PCs from Win98 to Win7. Getting faith based religion about either operating system is so east Texas football. We’ve all won regardless of which one we run, but the spur to innovate came more from one side to the other. 

  18. So finally read the article – what was up with the director playing Oz like that? Is he just a weird eccentric who does things like this, or was there another reason?

  19. Mark, OMG!  THAT was you?  I remember that commercial, all I could think of every time I saw it was ‘ouch Bill, that’s gotta smart’.  OK, that and ‘he’s kinda cute’ LOL.

    bOingers!  Can I just take a little survey of those who switched over.  How long did it take you before you learned that in order to open a new window you needed to hit “command N”?
    Of course this question is really for people who never RTFM.  And for whom the”just keep clicking around  until it works” method was their go to learning approach on Windows.

    Disclosure:Don’t worry.  Whatever you put down it took me longer… waaaaay longer.  Which is weird as the first Macintosh was the earliest computer I used consistently before PCs bc cheap.

  20. Mark…I remember this commercial vividly, the “bad relationship” comment was spot on, brilliant and I hope they paid you a zillion dollars or at least threw some writing your way.

  21. But Mark, why would you put up with that kind of treatment? Not a chair for you to sit on, people being rude to you (waving at you to shut up while they’re on the phone), your being kept waiting for several hours and then several more… I don’t get it. If anyone keeps me waiting an excessive amount of time, including my doctor, I go from forgiving to annoyed to something worse in the space of about 45 minutes, and I ultimately give them an earful unless they have a DAMN good excuse. We’re ALL busy. Our time is, literally, valuable (theirs not more than yours); if not always in a financial sense, then certainly when it comes to your giving up time with good friends, with your spouse, with your kids. I would never stick around for multiple hours unless people were extraordinarily nice to me, apologized for the wait, made me comfortable, got me some food and something to drink, and apologized again. Even then…six hours? Hardly. I hope the pay was excellent!

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