Steve Jobs’ true lasting legacy: His great Apple ads


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When he was once asked about how much market research went into the iPad, Steve Jobs famously said ‘None. It’s not the customers’ jobs to know what they want.’ But while Apple may not have done any market research, it did plenty of advertising. In fact, you could argue that no major corporation has done a better job of sculpting its image through its ads over the past quarter-century than Apple.

In the Jobs obituaries last week, everyone mentioned how the Apple co-founder had irrevocably changed a host of businesses, from computers and cellphones to music and animated films. But it was rarely noted that Jobs also transformed another iconic American institution -- the Super Bowl. Without looking it up, only the most fanatical football fan could possibly remember who won the 1984 Super Bowl (the Oakland Raiders walloped the Washington Redskins 38-9), but everyone who was watching remembers the mind-blowing ad that Apple ran during the third quarter of the game.


Today we’re accustomed to over-the-top Super Bowl ads. But in 1984, the ads airing during the game were pretty routine soft drink and beer drek. Apple’s ad, titled ‘1984,’ was oh-so different. Like virtually every Apple ad in the years to come, the commercial used a pop culture reference point to propel its message. Created by Chiat/Day and directed by Ridley Scott just two years after he made ‘Blade Runner,’ the ad showed a lone Olympic-style runner being chased by futuristically garbed police in an Orwellian setting populated with a huge phalanx of people marching in unison. The action concludes with the runner heroically hurling a hammer at a giant screen featuring an overbearing, Big Brother-style orator, followed by the announcement of the arrival of Apple’s new Macintosh computer.

The message was clear: Apple was a subversive outsider, going up against the computer establishment, which in those days was represented by the seemingly monolithic IBM. A product of the counterculture himself, Jobs never tired of associating Apple products with unconventionality and nonconformity. When he returned to run Apple in the late 1990s, Jobs launched a new campaign, called ‘Think Different.’ It also plucked its imagery from pop culture, running ‘Think Different’ ads illustrated with cool photos of iconoclasts familiar enough to be identified by one name only: Dylan, Picasso, Gandhi, Lennon and Einstein.

In the TV ads that accompanied the campaign, Apple made its message crystal clear. If you were an Apple consumer, you should see yourself as a ‘rebel, a misfit, a round peg in a square hole. As the ad put it, its heroes -- the Dylans, Gandhis and Picassos -- were the crazy ones: ‘They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo.’ The ad positioned Apple as being the product for mavericks and dreamers, ending by saying: ‘The people who think they are crazy enough to change the world are the ones who do.’

As my colleague James Rainey pointed out the other day, when it came to dealing with the media, Jobs was more of a secrecy-obsessed schemer than a dreamer, keeping a tight lid on even the most bland information involving his new releases. But when it came to promoting his brand, Jobs did a brilliant job of selling a consumer product by appealing to the scruffy outsider in us all. Perhaps it’s why Apple has remained such a beloved brand for so long. The MacBooks, iPhones and iPads were all brilliantly designed, but Apple’s ads made us feel that when we bought them we were somehow part of a coterie of like-minded idealists, showing off the better part of ourselves.

The Crazy Ones Ad:

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--Patrick Goldstein