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She's the Elusive Apple of the Web's Eye

August 23, 2002|SUSAN CARPENTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ellen Feiss is famous because her dad's computer ate her homework. Not famous in a can't-walk-down-the-street-without-being-noticed kind of way, but famous in that Warholian everybody-will-have-their-15-minutes sense.

Feiss, a student, is one of the stars of Apple Computer's "switch" ad campaign, which features real people who have switched from PCs to Macintoshes. During her 30-second spot, she describes her PC experience as "kind of a bummer" and imitates her "berserk" computer going "beep beep beep."

Interest in Feiss is intense; information about her elusive. Apple won't divulge any details, aside from verifying she is a real teenager, but that hasn't stopped thousands of admirers from discussing her online, building tribute Web sites and selling T-shirts, Frisbees, wall clocks, mouse pads, mugs and wallpaper--all emblazoned with her image.

Dressed slacker casual in a zip-up sweatshirt, her wind-swept hair pulled back from her face to reveal clear skin, full lips and cocker-spaniel eyes, Feiss would probably have slipped under the radar if she weren't so darned cute. But there's another reason for her popularity: Her slightly slurred speech and reddish eyes have led to much speculation online as to whether or not she is stoned on marijuana--something that has made Feiss even more popular.

"We just thought she seemed like a cool, funny girl who deserved a little shrine," said Jake Brown, 30, founder of the Chicago-based Ellen Fan Club at ellenfeiss.glorious noise.com. "I wanted to build a place for all the other Ellen lovers to share their thoughts with each other."

And share they have, posting comments that are pro-Feiss and anti-Feiss, pro-drug and anti-drug, pro-Mac and anti-Mac.

"Does anybody know if she's available to book for parties?" asked one fan on the Glorious Noise site.

"Ellen Feiss for president! Woohoo!" declared another.

"I think the 'really good paper' she is referring to are her Zig-Zags," deadpanned another.

"That's it? For this she's famous? Save often, lady," wrote one skeptic.

Ad Never Made It to TV

It's hard to believe so much has been read into a 30-second commercial, especially one that has never aired on television. The spot debuted at the MacWorld Expo on July 17 and has appeared only on the Apple Web site since. But, thanks to postings on various Web logs, Web sites and news groups that link to Apple's site, the Feiss video is making the rounds.

About 25,000 people have visited Brown's fan site since he set it up last month, but Brown isn't surprised. "It's one of those things that people love to talk about," said Brown, who is careful to point out that he is happily married and not a "stalker maniac weirdo." "The Ellen ad is like a sweet, harmless version of 'The Osbournes' or 'The Anna Nicole Smith Show.' "

Michael Grant, a 22-year-old network administrator in Houston, saw the Feiss ad two weeks ago after finding a link to it online. Thinking the ad was very funny and that Feiss is "cute in the extreme," he downloaded the wallpaper from the Glorious Noise site so that every time he logs on to his computer, Feiss is staring at him from his computer screen.

Brandon Caballero, a 19-year-old computer major at Texas A&M University, also saw the ad a few weeks ago, but he took his appreciation one step further. He set up the ellenfeiss.net fan site.

Like many of her fans, who are, not surprisingly, young and male, Caballero was hoping he might get an e-mail from her. In the three weeks his site has been up, he's received hundreds of messages from fellow fans, but he hasn't heard from Feiss. He's still hoping.

"It would be nice," said Caballero. "I've never met any celebrities before."

Not Releasing Details

Apple is cautious in releasing information about Feiss, probably because she is a minor.

"She's just a teenager who loves her Mac," is all the company will say. An Apple spokesperson initially indicated Feiss was from L.A. but later recanted.

Apple's refusal to release any additional information has just fueled Feiss' fans, prompting one of them to create a fake interview, another to make a video remix of the commercial and some people who know her in real life to post old yearbook pictures online.

Still, it's hard to know who Feiss is. What's more amazing is that people even care, but reality--or the imitation of it--is in, as the popularity of shows such as "Survivor," "The Bachelor" and "Fear Factor" can attest.

"One of the difficulties for marketers is that kids are real hip to being marketed to," said Tobi Elkin, a technology reporter for Advertising Age magazine. "[They] have to sort of do this anti-marketing marketing, and the use of real people may just be in that vein."

And Feiss is nothing if not real. The way she looks, talks and acts does not seem at all contrived, which is why she has been so embraced. But whether Feiss' 30-second ad spot can extend her fame beyond 15 minutes--or whether she has any interest in that happening--remains to be seen.

"It all depends on Ellen now," said fan club founder Brown. "If she would like to come forward and talk about herself, I'm sure she could be in the public eye for a long time."

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