How Bill ruined keynotes and Qualcomm got weird and crazy at CES

  • Mark Gibbs (Network World)
  • 11 January, 2013 22:53

It's all Bill's fault. At one time the big keynote presentations at shows like Comdex (R.I.P.) were glimpses into the future.

The formula used to be that CEOs of leading industry corporations would get up at major events and paint a picture of what was coming next. They'd usually outline major trends and then wrap them up with a forecast for the future.

Then Bill Gates had to go and ruin it.

IN PICTURES: The best of CES 2013

Bill stopped predicting the industry and started telling everyone how great the next round of Microsoft products would be. He'd get up and demo! No more analytical crap ... it became sell, sell, sell! No, let me revise that: Shamelessly sell, sell, sell, sell!

And it worked! No one complained. Well, no one who mattered to Microsoft's bottom line, and so an industry standard was set. Now these events have turned into dog and pony shows that more closely resemble out-and-out advertisements crossed with a three-ring circus run by madmen.

Pretty much every corporate spokesperson doing a keynote now goes for the big pitch, but how do you raise the bar? How do you "one up" when you want to impress?

If you're Qualcomm and you were keynoting the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year, the answer was clear: You pull out all the stops, hand your presentation over to children to script, and then, when you deliver your opus, you transport your audience to what one attendee described as "some kind of perverse, bizarro universe."

This presentation, which I did not see live (thank the gods), but have enough glimpses of to make me gag, was one of the most ill-conceived, naive, insane, ridiculous keynotes in the history of cringe-worthy keynotes. The Verge has photos and a nice summary reel of the lunacy.

It began with three actors who possessed a degree of animation worthy of the cast of "Glee" on amphetamines and who identified themselves as being "born mobile." They were all simply nauseating.

After these three nonces left the stage, on came Qualcomm's CEO, Paul Jacobs, who proclaimed that we needed to get ready for "Generation M." Sigh. As a member of The Verge's staff attending the event tweeted: "We're not calling it Gen M, Paul Jacobs. YOU CAN'T MAKE ME."

And then, when you were starting to think it couldn't get weirder, Microsoft's own "Monkey Boy" and CEO, Steve Ballmer, trotted out ... well, lolloped out, and dominated Jacobs reducing him to temporary incoherence. A great example of tech-blocking.

Then, just when you thought it couldn't get weirder, out comes movie director Guillermo del Toro to talk about how Qualcomm's new Snapdragon processor could be used in movie making. To underline this, del Toro showed a clip from his forthcoming film "Pacific Rim" followed by a gruesome, bloody clip from "Blade II."

Jacobs then attempted, unconvincingly, to co-opt the "Internet of Things" meme into the company's own "Internet of Everything." No one was buying this. Well, no one in their right mind.

Then out trotted Big Bird with a developer wearing what appeared to be a skinned Big Bird, followed by (on camera) Archbishop Desmond Tutu (honestly, I am not making this up), actress Alice Eve (in person), and a real live all-electric Rolls-Royce.

Just as our brains were about to short out, the band Maroon 5 came on to perform because what else would you choose to follow an electric Rolls-Royce?

Probably due to licensing issues, at this point the live Internet feed went silent and then a Dido track was played instead! Our brains went into shock at the sheer weirdness. And that was pretty much it.

So, what can we conclude from this insane collision of marketing, show biz and high tech? Well, I, for one, am not completely sure.

I think one takeaway might be that there's no depth of pandering to pop culture that most major companies aren't willing to stoop to. Another might be that our industry, for all its years of development and its importance to our culture and economy, is still a teenager with spots when it comes to market communications. Sure, there have been some exceptions, but even Apple has gone "pop" since Steve Jobs passed.

Despite the horror of this year's CES keynote I think I can say for all of us that we can't wait to see who tops this insanity next year, because we know whoever it is, they won't be able to help themselves. Thanks, Bill, thanks a lot.

Gibbs is horrified and amused in Ventura, Calif. Describe your viewing pleasure to and follow him on Twitter and (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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