Teenager Ellen Feiss, the “is-she-stoned?” star of one of Apple’s new “Switch” ads, is quickly becoming a Web celebrity but not necessarily for reasons that would please the advertiser.
Feiss is featured in an Apple TV ad in which she criticizes her dad’s Windows PC for devouring a school paper, an experience she describes as “kind of a bummer.”
Soon after Feiss’ ad debuted on July 17 during Macworld New York, she became the subject of heated online debate about her, um, seemingly fuzzy state of mind. Commentators at sites like Metafilter noted her speech is somewhat slow and slurred, and her eyes appear to be red.
In the last couple of weeks, a number of fan sites have popped up, created by besotted devotees who think she deserves a higher profile in American pop culture.
The domains ellenfeis.com and ellenfeissfanclub.com have also been registered but are currently empty.
Feiss has been turned into a set of computer icons that, curiously, can be converted to display on machines running Windows XP. She is also the subject of some wallpaper pictures that decorate a computer’s desktop.
Feiss is featured in a large number of Photoshop parodies making the rounds in e-mail and chat forums. Most center on drug use or outrage over Apple’s decision to charge for its .Mac Net services and the forthcoming OS X update, Jaguar.
In fact, the Feiss parodies are the only funny Switch satires so far. Unlike Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, which was hilariously lampooned, most of the Switch satires have been thunderingly unfunny.
Apple’s Switch ads feature about a dozen real people talking about switching from Windows PCs to the Mac. Writing in Slate, Rob Walker said the ads were one of the “the most talked-about and pervasive ad campaigns going these days.”
Immediately, there was rampant speculation that Feiss was stoned. It was fueled by the ad’s unavailability on Apple’s website for a few hours, attributed to Apple getting cold feet. But the problem seems to have been a technical glitch; the ad is again online and airing on TV. A print version is running in magazines and on billboards.
Not much is known about Feiss, except that she’s a student. She couldn’t be contacted for this story, and Apple declined to comment.
Feiss is drawing a lot of comparisons to Dell’s young pitchman Steven, the “Dude, you’re getting a Dell” character. But a big part of Feiss’ appeal is she’s real.
“I can’t stop watching Ellen Feiss and I’m not alone in this mini-obsession,” someone wrote on Kuro5hin, a popular Web forum. “I think it’s because she reminds me of the stoner girls I used to hang around with in high school … sigh. Those were the days.”
Shortly after the ad debuted and was generating discussion online, someone named Chris M., registered ellenfleiss.com and redirected it to Ellen Feiss Creative Fun, where Feiss Photoshop parodies were collected.
Jerome Maurey-Delaunay, a New York multimedia producer who ran the site, logged 11,000 visitors in five days and received about 40 Photoshop parodies from contributors. But he pulled most of them down because he felt they could be personally hurtful to Feiss.
Brandon Caballero, 19, a student at Texas A&M University, put up his Feiss fan site in the hope of getting an e-mail from her.
“It was basically ‘cos she’s cute,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It’s the summer, and we didn’t have much to do. Getting an e-mail from her would be pretty cool, but I didn’t think the chances of that are too high.”
Caballero said Feiss’ pitch is starting to work on him. He uses a PC, but he’s thinking about getting one of Apple’s new iBooks. Another factor was losing 20 GB of video footage when recently trying to reinstall Windows XP.
“(I’m) in the same basket as Ellen,” Caballero said. “We’re both students who lost work on a PC.”
Jake Brown of Glorious Noise, an online music magazine, is another PC user who created a fan site devoted to Feiss.
“We at Glorious Noise thought she deserved some kind of tribute because she’s brought a smile to so many people’s lives,” Brown said. “I watched the ad online and thought it was brilliant and that Ellen was totally charming and funny.”
The site’s Cafépress Web store has sold three Feiss-adorned shirts and a couple of mugs.
“I’d like to talk to Ellen, but I’m not a weirdo stalker maniac,” he said. “I am a happily married 30-year-old guy who just got a kick out of her ad. I think she’s worthy of a place in American pop culture and I want to make sure her 15 minutes – well, 30 seconds – of fame lasts as long as possible.”