The Eight Most Awkward Celebrity Tech Product Launches

Never invite Conan O’Brien to a promotional event

Tech's Most Awkward Celebrity Product Launches

Technology companies often lean on celebrity appearances to build buzz for their glitzy product events, and Microsoft has traditionally been one of the worst offenders. But for the Windows 10 launch on July 29, the company made a conscious decision to eschew a big-budget keynote with lamely scripted visits by starlets and rockers. Given past results, that’s probably a good call.

Microsoft couldn’t bring itself to completely swear off celebrities. The company will host big-name athletes, such as USA women’s soccer champion Megan Rapinoe, at some of its stores around the U.S. But Microsoft’s decision to spare us from another uncomfortable bro hug from Ryan Seacrest in front of a large audience is cause for celebration. So here are eight of the most awkward onstage performances by celebrities and executives at tech conferences.

8. Bill Gates meets the Rock

Source: YouTube via Bloomberg

When Microsoft introduced the original Xbox in 2001, finding a way to make the company’s dweeby co-founder appeal to gamers would be tougher than the Library level in Halo. So the company turned to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, at the time a popular wrestler in the then World Wrestling Federation. (There was a tenuous connection because the original launch lineup for the Xbox included a wrestling game.) During the production, the Rock spent most of his time referring to himself in the third person and bragging about how strong he is. Gates chuckled faintly, and cracked a joke about the C programming language.

7. Intel names Will.i.am director of creative innovation

Will.i.am, left, with Paul Otellini, president and chief executive officer of Intel, during an event at CES 2012.
Will.i.am, left, with Paul Otellini, president and chief executive officer of Intel, during an event at CES 2012.
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

People weren’t really sure what to make of Intel’s onstage announcement that it was making a member of the Black Eyed Peas an executive at the chipmaker. This was before the contrived trend of appointing entertainers to made-up positions really became fashionable, with Alicia Keys’s creative director role at BlackBerry coming years later—and then quickly sullied soon after when she tweeted from an iPhone. In 2011, Deborah Conrad, Intel’s head of marketing at the time, introduced Will.i.am as its director of creative innovation. During the announcement, both Conrad and the Grammy Award winner seemed to struggle to explain what he would actually do at the company.

6. Michael Bay walks off Samsung’s stage

Michael Bay, left, greets Joe Stinziano, executive vice president of Samsung Electronics America, during a press conference at CES 2014.
Michael Bay, left, greets Joe Stinziano, executive vice president of Samsung Electronics America, during a press conference at CES 2014.
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Transformers director Michael Bay was supposed to be at a 2014 Samsung news conference to praise the company’s Curve television set. Instead, Bay’s brief cameo blew up in an even more spectacular way than the buildings in one of his movies. Blaming a broken teleprompter, Bay attempted to ad-lib a description of his job. He quickly got flustered and muttered nonsensical half-sentences before apologizing and exiting stage right.

5. Bono and Tim Cook’s weird finger-touch thing

Apple CEO Tim Cook, left, and the band U2 gesture during a product announcement at Flint Center in Cupertino, California, on Sept. 9, 2014.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, left, and the band U2 gesture during a product announcement at Flint Center in Cupertino, California, on Sept. 9, 2014.
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

In 2014, Bono showed up onstage alongside Tim Cook at one of Apple’s famed product events to announce that U2’s Songs of Innocence album would be given to (or forced upon) every iTunes user. The result was something resembling a yoga class taught by a Steven Spielberg fan. First, Bono referred to Cook as “Zen master.” Cook responded with a namaste bow, and then the two shared a strange fingertip touch like the scene from E.T. the Extra Terrestrial.

4. Bill Gates and the wrath of Conan

Microsoft's Bill Gates talks software with guest host Conan O'Brien at CES on Jan. 5, 2005.
Microsoft's Bill Gates talks software with guest host Conan O'Brien at CES on Jan. 5, 2005.
Photographer: Neal Ulevich/Bloomberg

There were a lot of bad Microsoft keynotes at the Consumer Electronics Show over their decade-plus run, before the company called off the tradition. But 2005 marked the biggest disaster, when Gates co-hosted the event with Conan O’Brien. Thanks to a power outage backstage, almost every tech demo failed, including a rare “blue screen of death” on the Xbox. O’Brien spent his opening monologue insulting Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer and poking fun at Gates’s genitalia—in a play on the words “micro” and “soft.”

3. Justin Timberlake’s backward high-five with Panasonic

Photographer: David Wolff - Patrick/Getty Images

Rebirthing Myspace years after the world had already moved on to Facebook was never going to be easy. So the company turned to Justin Timberlake, the actor, musician, and Myspace co-owner, who joined CEO Tim Vanderhook at a Panasonic press conference to wow the crowd with a Myspace TV service. Timberlake opened with a silly-looking behind-the-back low-five and told the mostly silent crowd of reporters that they “looked crazy.” Then he moved on to jokes about his “Motherlover” and, ahem, item “in a box” sketches from Saturday Night Live. The crowd laughed nervously. The Panasonic execs looked like they missed those episodes of SNL.

2. Qualcomm’s—I don’t know what this is

UFC fighter Alistair Overeem, left, and Paul Jacobs, Qualcomm's then CEO, speak at CES 2012.
UFC fighter Alistair Overeem, left, and Paul Jacobs, Qualcomm's then CEO, speak at CES 2012.
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

A 2013 CES event hosted by Qualcomm had it all—and way too much of it. Over the course of 75 minutes, the mobile chipmaker trotted out film director Guillermo del Toro, a bored-looking Alice Eve from Star Trek Into Darkness, Maroon 5, Big Bird, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and an overly energetic Ballmer (is there any other kind?) running onto the stage and yelling. The Verge described the event as “the most insane keynote ever.”

1. Ryan Seacrest and Steve Ballmer’s awkward bro hug

Ryan Seacrest, left, gives Steve Ballmer, then CEO of Microsoft, a hug at CES 2012.
Ryan Seacrest, left, gives Steve Ballmer, then CEO of Microsoft, a hug at CES 2012.
Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

In yet another example of Microsoft attempting to help its executives appeal to normal humans, the 2012 CES keynote paired Ballmer with Ryan Seacrest from American Idol. After Seacrest’s introduction, Ballmer came out, fists pumping, and gave Seacrest an odd, open-mouthed, chest-bump hug. In a photo of the scene, which hung in Bloomberg’s Seattle bureau for years, Ballmer looks as if he’s about to eat Seacrest’s head—which Ballmer might have actually attempted if he knew what a big iPhone fan Seacrest is.

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