01 April 2010

Styrofoam Cups, Ice Cream, and $35K Doors

by Tyler Weaver.  Follow me on Twitter.

I interviewed for a job at the Apple Store.  There.  I’ve admitted it publicly.

OK, it wasn’t really an interview.  It was more like a cult initiation, opening with a walk down an aisle formed by doe-eyed initiates with brightly-colored T-shirts and lanyards clapping and high-fiveing us, like some sort of revelatory self-help wedding.  Sitting on stools (appropriate) with a group of fellow unemployed folk fake orgasm-ing at the $35,000 dollar apiece doors (a fact the hiring managers made a point to tell us - a big turn-off when 90% of the people there were without work).  We were regaled and intimidated with stories of how much money each square foot of the store makes ("you're sitting on half a million dollars!"), how the floors are flown in from Apple’s own mountain, and how you have a better chance of getting into Yale than working at an Apple Store (to which I replied, "well, shouldn’t you pay us a Yale graduate’s salary?").

I made it into neither, but I’m not bitter about it.  I decided from the first high-five that it would not be a good environmental fit for both parties, but that I would take two hours of my life and get some material for future reference.

I have been a Mac user for nearly 20 years.  I will never set foot in an Apple store except for one of two reasons: I am being chased by rabid, diarrhea spewing pigeons and need a place to hide, allowing them to smash into the $35,000 doors; two: it's an absolute computing emergency, as in "my computer blew up, and I need a new one, just get my new computer, and stay the hell away from me." 

OK, three reasons.  To covertly sneak in and turn all of the Safari homepages to my Vimeo channel.  And that link is... ;)

And yeah, in spite of all that, I still use Apple products (they get the job done - most of the time).  I don’t feel proud of it, nor do I feel the cultish, Branch Davidian willingness to sacrifice body and soul for the latest and greatest product they offer. 

Filmmakers can learn numerous things from Apple: marketing, the creation of mostly great products, the business acumen on display.  But they can also learn some not-so groovy lessons: the secrecy, the closed-off operating system, lack of product accountability and the propensity for worship of gadget over use of tool.

Apple makes tools.  That’s it. Sure, they pimp it as a way of life, but it’s a tool.  It’s a computer. It does things. It makes things simple (though this week nearly resulted in me going back to analogue, and running this blog via carrier pigeon - not the rabid, diarrhea spewing kind, of course).  Apple it seems, has fallen into the trap that we filmmakers in this age of self-distribution and social media dominance need to avoid at all costs:

Apple has substituted quality of marketing for quality of product.

Social media is great. It’s wonderful. I’ve connected with some amazingly talented people out there (95% of the contributors to this site are from Twitter), and I’ve made some great virtual relationships. People like what I’m doing, I like what people are doing (and want to work with them) and I like doing what I’m doing.  I’m a huge proponent of personal branding, and I still believe it’s essential. 

But there are times that it goes too far.

I don’t care if you tell me your film is the greatest thing in the world. I don’t care if your iPad is going to revolutionize computing. I want you to prove it to me - and if you think I'm tough on the shows I review or the works of others, you haven't seen anything when it comes to how hard I am on myself.

I want you to give me a product that does what it says - entertains, make my life easier, scrubs my toilet - and does it well. I don’t care if I like you personally, if I’ve used your product in the past - crap is crap, and the frightening cult-like brand loyalty that is perpetuated in companies - from Apple to Alt Rock is the death knell of quality.

Accountability for product is of utmost importance.  Social media for filmmakers is all about transparency - and if we candy coat our product's deficiencies with marketing tricks, we're no better than Toyota.  Wouldn't it be more worthwhile and less of a waste of breath to actually make a good product (read: a product that fulfills its intended purpose & results in a profit)?

Filmmakers, we make films to entertain.  Computer manufacturers, you make tools to make our lives easier.  Failure to do this (generally defined as being the opposite of the intention; films that bore or computers that turn us into pant-ripping, green-skinned rage incarnates). 

Marketing is great, but don’t mistake good marketing with good product.

Don’t throw "facts" about profits per square foot, about mountain floors, about great effects.  A great product is a great product.  A bad one is a bad one.

Don't give me a styrofoam cup of shit and tell me it's a chocolate ice cream cone just because it has your logo on the cup.

Filmmakers: entertain. Illuminate. Make me giddy with filmic excitement.  Apple: make (pretty) things that work. Writers: make me think, entertain, enlighten. Musicians: make me want to keep listening. Stop making throwaway crap and perpetuating an image of greatness. 

I'll leave you with what I believe to be the golden rule of marketing and branding (which I believe I read in an article in Fast Company about Panera Bread - dammit, now I want lobster bisque in a bread bowl): your brand is NOT what you say it is.

It’s what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.

Tyler Weaver is a filmmaker, writer, contributor to the pulptone.com website, and is the founder and EIC of Multi-Hyphenate... which you're reading right now.  He's currently making new things and yaks about that and more on Twitter under the creative guise of @tylerweaver.


The Dark Scribe said...

Well stated.

People like Apple products because they deliver. People also like Spielberg films because they (usually) deliver.

As you have advocated many times before, the successful Creative presents him/herself as the brand. If you deliver on that brand, people will be return customers. The Macintosh delivers, as does the iPod (the iPad might; we'll see).

The Apple Store just freaks people out (myself included). But you'll keep using Apple because the BRAND delivers, even if the store is only useful to you as a shield from those poopy pigeons.

Great post, man. Particularly in an otherwise highly-occupied week.

DISCLAIMER: I'm writing this comment on a MacBook. No pigeons were involved.

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