The Rodney O. Lain Archive

Why Steve Jobs Doesn't Do Commercials

Rodney O. Lain - 1999.12.18

This article was originally published on MacSimple, a site which no longer exists. It is copyright 1999 by Rodney O. Lain. It is reprinted here without permission, as Rodney is no longer among us to grant permission.

This is a version of a column that originally appeared on a now-defunct website.

"Free Your Mind..."

Rarely do we find men [or women!] who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.
 - Martin Luther King, Jr.

While watching Bill Gates' "The Best is Yet to Come" commercial: I had a revelation: I don't think Steve Jobs will ever appear in an Apple commercial.

I think I have a pretty cogent argument here.

As a quick test and a prelude, I want you to ponder the answers to these rhetorical questions:

  1. Whom do you think of when you think of Sony?
  2. Whom do you think of when you think of Toyota?
  3. How about Magnavox?
  4. Allstate Insurance?
  5. Coca-Cola?


1) Whom do you think of when you think of Id Software? (Hint: "Damn I'm good/God" John Carmack)

2) Who personifies Oracle, Inc.? (Hint: "Big Mouth" Larry Ellison)

And here's a softball for ya:

3) Microsoft?

Id, Oracle, and Microsoft have major problems or could possibly have major problems, because their corporations have symbiotic existences with their founders/CEOs: so goes the CEO, so goes the company. Steve Jobs has wisely learned through some Zen-like experience that in order for his company to be successful, it can't rise and fall vis-à-vis a single person's popularity, health, fiscal well-being, etc.

I think this philosophy is the secret to Apple's future success - and, conversely, that philosophy may signal future problems for companies that are easily identified with their founders/owners/CEOs...

Now, I do leave room for the possibility that this principle applies only to Apple and no other corporation that I know; I will explain this at the end of the column.

The early Apple, if I read my Apple history correctly, was acutely dysfunctional, which is probably the quintessential understatement. In many ways, it may have reflected Steve Jobs personality, worldview, etc. After all, these guys running these companies were in many ways mere kids. Apple succeeded many times in spite of its leadership and rarely because of it. From what I hear and read, Steve Jobs was the rule-by-fear dictator. The company culture reflected him in too many ways. He could possibly been absolutely corrupted by Lord Acton's proverbial absolute power - an intoxication unlike any chemically induced "high." I will make my uninformed interpretation about Steve Jobs' "exile" years in a future column...

Now flash forward over 20 years to the "new" Apple. Steve Jobs has mandated that no single person can be credited with a product's creations, not even groups of people will have their names gracing a product anymore. Also, I remember someone trying to pundit the fact that Steve Jobs gave credit to the Apple employees when he rolled out the DV iMacs. The pundit took this as a sign that Steve is numbering his days at Apple's helm.

I saw that as a form of humility that he is trying to "osmosis" to the company culture. He has realized that the "Apple spirit" has grown far beyond anything that a single person can control or affect. He is in many ways making Apple The Company more faceless than it's ever been; that is not a negative criticism. He is helping the company get to the point where it will be self-sustaining and no longer dependent on anyone's Reality Distortion Field ™. That will make it more democratic in many ways.

I will allow those more intelligent than I to elucidate this point, if it makes any sense.

I think Steve is shaping Apple so that, regardless of who's at the helm, the company will have it's own personality, unchallenged by the will and agenda of a single person - even himself.

Earlier, I'd mentioned that this may apply only to Apple. I think it does, because Apple is unlike any other company I know of. It has followers, fans, addicts, evangelists, whatever you want to call yourselves. No other company commands this following.

I'd love to come back to this topic in the months and years to come, as more of Apple's strategy unfolds. I think Apple is positioning itself to be the way Sony is: associated with attributes and a reputation far removed from a single person or group of people.

I'd love to hear your thoughts an feedback. Or, you can discuss it among yourselves...

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