It was 1997 and Steve Jobs had been lured back to save Apple.
Jobs had been away for a decade after a boardroom battle forced him from the company he co-founded with Steve Wozniak.
Upon his return, Jobs was stunned to find a company just months away from bankruptcy, overloaded with too many shoddy products and a share price that was tanking. Oh, and a culture that had stagnated.
Jobs slashed the product line, shored up finances and got to work on saving the brand. He booted out the safe and boring TBWA that had been producing stodgy creative and lacklustre advertising and brought back Chiat Day who had first propelled the brand to fame with the notorious “1984” Super Bowl Macintosh commercial.
Jobs doubled down on values and positioning. In a presentation to staff, he pinpointed where he saw Apple’s role in the world.
‘Marketing is about values,’ he said.
‘This is a very complicated world, a very noisy world and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us.
‘Even a great brand needs investment and caring if it’s going to retain its relevance and vitality. And the Apple brand has clearly suffered from neglect in this area in the last few years. We need to bring it back.
‘Our customers want to know who Apple is and what is it that we stand for. What we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done - although we do that better than almost anybody. We’re more than that.
‘Apple’s core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better. That’s what we believe.
‘We’ve had the opportunity to work with people like that. With people like you, with software developers, with customers who have done it in some big and some small ways.
‘We believe those people can change this world for the better. Those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that actually do.
‘So what we’re going to do in our first brand campaign in several years is get back to that core value.
‘A lot of things have changed. The market is a totally different place than it was a decade ago. Apple is totally different. Apple’s products, distribution and manufacturing are totally different.
‘But our values, our core values shouldn’t change. The things that Apple believed in at its core are the same things that Apple really stands for today.
‘We wanted to find a way to communicate this. What we have is something I’m very moved as it honors those people who have changed the world.
‘Some of them are living, some of them are not. But the ones that aren’t, as you’ll see, if they ever used a computer it would have been a Mac.’
The staff grinned and chuckled. Jobs continued.
‘The theme of the campaign is think different. It honors the people who think different and who move this world forward.
‘It’s what we’re about. It touches the soul of this company.’
Jobs played the television commercial. Simple black and white footage of revolutionary people and events is cut to a haunting soundtrack. A simple voice-over narrates.
‘Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things, they push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.’
It ends with an image of a young girl opening her closed eyes as if making a wish. The screen fades to black. Think different fades up in classic white type. Apple rainbow-coloured logo fades up above the type.
Apple’s “Think Different” commercial was written (and rewritten several hundred times by creative director Rob Siltanen and a slew of other creatives and writers. Freelancers too.
It first ran on September 28, 1997, followed by print ads, billboards and posters. It changed Apple’s fortunes overnight.
John and Yoko Lennon billboard as part of Apple’s groundbreaking “Think Different” campaign
Apple’s “Think Different” campaign was first conceived not by a writer but by Chiat Day art director Craig Tanimoto riffing off the famous “Think IBM” campaign. A resolute way to position Apple as the anti-IBM. And everything that entails without having to utter another word.
Positioning is not what you do to a brand. Positioning is where a brand stands in relation to similar brands. It’s how to distinguish a brand in someone’s mind.
That’s the beauty of great positioning. It not only upholds a brand’s greatest strengths but simultaneously sidelines competitors in the process.