Steve Jobs’ Apple had another role: movie star


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Under Steve Jobs, Apple has become a part of daily existence in numerous ways. But his products have also seeped into a less obvious part of our lives: the entertainment landscape.

Jobs, who died Wednesday at 56, of course co-founded and ran Pixar, incubator of untold animated hits. But his influence on screen entertainment was more pervasive than that. Jobs and Apple realized early on that one way to gain consumer acceptance (apart from, you know, creating compelling products) was for your logo to make frequent appearances in film and on television. So the company hired product-placement experts who could get the logo into our entertainment.


Starting all the way back in the 1990s (long before product placement was de rigueur) the MacIntosh began to pop up in mega-hits such as ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Independence Day.’

As the company’s products began to gain consumer dominance, first with evolutions of the Mac and later with the iPod and iPhone, producers started to want them in their movies. (Hollywood marketers never admit whether such appearances are paid. Often it’s a barter deal -- show our products and we’ll give you a bunch of freebies -- but paying for screen time is not uncommon.)

Soon Apple products were everywhere. Carrie Bradshaw used a MacBook on ‘Sex and the City,’ and Michael Scott was given an iPhone on ‘The Office.’ By 2008, Apple products appeared in nearly 50% of the films that won the weekend box office that year, according to the marketing industry group Brand Channel.

Nor was the Apple-mania limited to Hollywood. Chen Daming, director of a Chinese remake of the Mel Gibson hit “What Women Want,’ said recently that the company gave the production 100 computers to use as props.

It all fit with Jobs’ strategy: to show Apple as a brand used by the people you wanted to emulate. (Carrie kept pecking out details of her glamorous life on a Mac, but the workers on ‘The Office,’ for instance, slaved away at bland, nondescript PCs).

Of course, as other companies began to see the fruits of Apple’s labor, they wanted in too. Sony began replacing Apple products with its own gizmos in its studio division’s movies. By last year, the number of box-office winners showcasing Apple products dropped to 30%.


Still, that number was higher than behemoths like Nike or Ford, according to Brand Channel. (And its appearances could be relentless -- ‘Iron Man 2’ showed 64 Apple products.) And it’s a testament to Apple’s marketing savvy that the equation has now been flipped. Seeing a certain character use an Apple product once might have made us see Apple in a different, more appealing light. Now it makes us see the character that way.

Given the brand’s careful grooming of its image, we wouldn’t expect to see Apple fall off our entertainment screens anytime soon. And with Jobs’ death, we also wouldn’t be surprised to see filmmakers, many of whom have edited their movies on his computers, begin slipping in references to the Apple co-founder.


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-- Steven Zeitchik