Reality Distortion vs. Reality
Herewith, some comments apropos of the Macworld 08 Keynote, specifically Randy Newman’s performance at the end.
Firstly, the Keynote as a whole seems to have moved from slick-but-reality-distorted marketing into the realms of straight-out entertainment. Apple are simply leading the pack, and I expect Microsoft and others to follow (e.g. Bill Gates’s CES keynote). At the end of the Keynote, Randy Newman sang a couple of songs and rambled (fairly incoherently I thought). Part of the monologue was related to Apple as he said that “this company” wasn’t like the others; although it was sufficiently vague that he could have been talking about Pixar instead. And aside from this one mention, Newman could have been playing a set on a late night chat show or something.
The convergence of entertainment with marketing is taken to an extreme in Jon Armstrong’s excellent and hilarious novel Grey (available for free on audio podcast from his site). Without giving away too much, in the world of Grey, corporate marketing includes “publicity dates” between members of the respective CEOs families, the resulting courtship is eagerly devoured by a gossip-hungry public, and actual information about the products or the company is completely ignored. In a similar vein, future MacWorld Keynotes could easily include dance routines from Steve Jobs’ offspring. OK maybe not, but you have to wonder where it will end.
My second point is that the flavour of entertainment on display at the Macworld 08 show was particularly inappropriate I thought. The message came through pretty loud and clear: Randy Newman doesn’t like the Bush administration. The song A few words in defense of our country makes the case that the current US government is bad, but not as bad as it could have been, in comparison to the Roman Caesars for example (setting the bar rather low I would have thought).
Criticism of the Bush administration is something I obviously have a lot of time for. But is it suitable for a consumer product launch?
To those apparently many people at the launch who were pleased with Newman’s performance; please ask yourself how you would have felt if the entertainment had taken a position contrary to your own. Mark Nottingham described this exact situation a few years back. I have been in a similar situation, albeit on a smaller scale; prior to the Iraq invasion I was at a business meeting where one of the attendees made his clear pro-Bush views known, much to my discomfort.
Mix politics with business and you take a risk with a relatively small upside but a big downside. If your politics match mine, we are no more likely to do business together than before we knew each other’s positions. But if our politics disagree, this difference becomes a barrier that we each have to overcome in order to do business together.
I’m not arguing for censorship or anything. I’m just saying that the separation of politics and business is crucial for the success of both.