The Most ancient Marketing
BeFore aPPLe, s TeVe JoBs fa- mously went to India with is college friend Dan Kottke. While I never had occasion to talk to Jobs about it, I did
hear many a tale from Kottke, and I
have a theory I wish I had a chance to
try out on Jobs.
Jobs loved the Beatles and referred
to them fairly often, so I’ll use some
Beatles references. When John Lennon
was a boy, he once recalled seeing El-
vis in a movie and suddenly thought to
himself, “I want that job!” The theory
is that Jobs saw gurus in India, focal
points of love and respect, surrounded
by devotees, and he similarly thought
to himself, “I want that job!”
This observation is not meant as
a criticism, and certainly not as an
insult. It simply provides an explana-
tory framework for what made Jobs a
For instance, he liberally used
the guru’s tactic of treating certain
devotees badly from time to time as
a way of making them more devoted.
I heard members of the original Macintosh team confess that they succumbed. They were tangibly stunned
by it, repeatedly. They recognized it
happening in real time, and yet they
consented. Jobs would scold and humiliate people and somehow elicit an
ever more intense determination to
attempt to win his approval, or more
precisely, his pleasure.
techniques of India’s
gurus to the business
The process is described in an essay
by Alan Watts on how to be a guru that
was well known around the time Apple
was first taking off. The successful guru
is neither universally nor arbitrarily
scornful to followers, but there should
be enough randomness to keep them
guessing and off guard. When praise
comes, it should be utterly piercing
and luminous, so as to make the recipient feel as though they’ve never known
love before that moment.
Apple’s relationship with its customers often followed a similar course.
There would be a pandemic of bleating about a problem, such as a phone
that lost calls when touched a certain
way, and somehow the strife seemed to
further cement customer devotion instead of driving them away. What other
tech company has experienced such a
thing? Jobs imported the marketing
techniques of India’s gurus to the business of computation.
Another way in which Jobs emulated
the practices of gurus is in the psychology of pseudo-asceticism.
Consider the way he used physical
spaces. Jobs always created personal
and work spaces that were spare like
an ashram, but it is the white Apple
store interior that most recalls the
ashram. White conveys purity, a holy
place beyond reproach. At the same
time, the white space must be highly
structured and formal. There must be
a tangible aura of discipline and adherence to the master’s plan.
The glass exteriors and staircases
of elite Apple stores go further. They
are temples, and I imagine they might
someday be repurposed for use along
those lines. (Maybe, some decades
from now, our home 3D printers will
just pop out the latest gadgets, leaving
There is yet another Beatles reference to bring up: It was Yoko Ono who
first painted a New York City artist’s
loft white. Conceptual avant-garde art
invites people to project whatever they
will project into it, and yet the artist offering a white space, or the silence of
John Cage’s “ 4' 33"” still becomes well
known. This is the template followed
by Apple marketing.
A dual message is conveyed. The
white void is empty, awaiting you and
almost anything you project into it.
The exception is the surrounding institution—the business—which is not