Steve Jobs Originally Hated The ‘Think Different’ Campaign

Steve Jobs Originally Hated The ‘Think Different’ Campaign

Have you ever wondered what it was like behind the scenes of Apple’s famous ‘Think Different’ advertising campaign? The 1997 ad was mainly attributed to Steve Jobs in Walter Isaacson’s biography, but there’s more to how it all went down.

An advertising executive that helped create the campaign has taken to Forbes to set the record straight, and the truth is that Steve Jobs originally hated the very ad that brought Apple back from the brink of destruction.

Rob Siltanen describes the day he and his creative partner met Steve Jobs to discuss working on a new campaign for Apple:

Jobs walked into the conference room wearing his trademark black mock turtleneck, shorts and a pair of flip-flops. But while he looked casual, he was all business.

The hellos and introductions were very short, and there was zero time spent reminiscing about the glory days when Lee and the old guard at Chiat helped Jobs create some of the most awe-inspiring advertising of all time. Jobs basically said, “Good to see you. Thanks for coming. Now let’s get down to business.” He then went on to say that Apple was “hemorrhaging” and the company was in worse shape than he had imagined. He said, “We have some decent product, but we need to get things figured out. I’m putting the advertising up for review, and I’m meeting with a handful of agencies to see who ‘gets it.’ I’ve already been talking with a couple of agencies that seem pretty good, and you’re invited to pitch the account if you’re interested.” At this point I thought to myself, well, this isn’t going as planned.

Surprisingly, Steve Jobs never envisioned a television campaign. He thought that whatever advertising push Apple did next should be mainly for print.

He said, “I’m thinking no TV ads, just some print ads in the computer magazines until we get things figured out.” Clow remained his cool, reserved self at this point, while I found Jobs to be far more bossy and arrogant than I imagined. I got the impression he felt we were just another company lucky to be in his presence. I also didn’t agree at all with his gameplan. I chimed in and told him, “Half the world thinks Apple is going to die. A few print ads in the computer magazines aren’t going to do anything for you. You need to show the world that Apple is as strong as a lion. Nobody stands around the water cooler talking about print ads. You need to do something bigger and bolder. You need to do TV and other things that are going to give you true momentum.” I went on to say that any agency could talk the talk. You need to see actual creative executions to truly judge the power of an idea.

After Siltanen pitched the original idea for a ‘Think Different’ advert, Jobs was hesitant because he thought it would exacerbate the public’s perception of his huge ego. He ended up giving the go-ahead to make the campaign, and Siltanen’s team got to work.

Jobs was quiet during the pitch, but he seemed intrigued throughout, and now it was time for him to talk. He looked around the room filled with the “Think Different” billboards and said, “This is great, this is really great … but I can’t do this. People already think I’m an egotist, and putting the Apple logo up there with all these geniuses will get me skewered by the press.” The room was totally silent. The “Think Different” campaign was the only campaign we had in our bag of tricks, and I thought for certain we were toast. Steve then paused and looked around the room and said out loud, yet almost as if to his own self, “What am I doing? Screw it. It’s the right thing. It’s great. Let’s talk tomorrow.” In a matter of seconds, right before our very eyes, he had done a complete about-face.

After the showing of the then-completed ad, Jobs hated it.

Lee and I flew to Cupertino to play the spot in person to Jobs. Only the three of us were in the room. We played the spot once, and when it finished, Jobs said, “It sucks! I hate it! It’s advertising agency shit! I thought you were going to write something like ‘Dead Poets Society!’ This is crap!”

Siltanen ended up bringing in Ken Segall (who had previously worked with Jobs) to put some finishing touches on the TV spot and create a compelling newspaper ad. You can read our exclusive interview with Segall from 2009 for a closer look at his involvement with the campaign.

Despite Jobs’ original disapproval, the ad ended up airing. It is still considered to be one of the great advertising campaigns of all time.

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  • Andy Murdock

    Steve Jobs hates everything when he first hears about whatever it is. It’s only when he takes a walk and thinks about it does he then start to love an idea. That’s one big thing I learned from the Jobs book. So, this is no big surprise.

  • Guest

    Oh you knew him?!!? No? exactly.

  • Andy Murdock

    “That’s one big thing I learned from the Jobs book.”Perhaps you should read the whole post before you open your can of snotty comments. 

  • Guest

    i actually did read the whole thing there you go again making assumptions about people you don’t know:)

  • loveMCR

    hated seems a bit strong when hesitant was all he really was

  • bd7349

    Your comment didn’t show that you read the whole post. Your comment put words in his mouth. Not once in his post did he say he knew him.

    He simply said, “Steve Jobs hates everything when he first hears about whatever it is. It’s only when he takes a walk and thinks about it does he then start to love an idea. That’s one big thing I learned from the Jobs book. So, this is no big surprise.”

    Keywords in that post: “learned from the Jobs book.”

    So yes, you might’ve read the whole post, but your previous post didn’t show that you did.

  • Andy Murdock

    Recyclops, how embarrassing for you. Did you get that?

  • Guest

    I really don’t give a crap because I have better things to do than argue over comments because I’m actually have a life. good day

  • davidk

    The ads were great but they didn’t bring Apple back from the brink, great products did.

  • Hans Maristela

    As an ad man who had worn both the agency and client hats, I could perfectly understand Steve Jobs’ ambivalence to the campaign. Here was a man who had just stepped back into the company he co-founded but which unceremoniously fired him. He had obviously learned his lessons during his time at Next and Pixar, and he didn’t want then-flagging Apple’s potentially life-saving brand communication to be about him and his ego. He was being careful and there’s nothing wrong with that. I have had worse clients and colleagues who were empowered with making advertising decisions but had no way of distinguishing a good (or great) ad from a bad one until they heard from the so-called experts at AdAge.

  • freedotz

    Then why did you take the time to respond?… What an arse

  • Guest

    better question yet is why do you take time to respond about comments that have nothing to do with you?

  • NukemHill

    There you go again, with not enough time due to having so many better things to do.  I guess if you *really* cared, then you wouldn’t be making nearly the ass of yourself that you currently are.

    Sucks to be you, don’t it?

  • freedotz

    Laughing my arse off, your last comment just made my day :)

  • cassandralite

    “Have you ever wondered what it was like behind the scenes of Apple’s famous ‘Think Different’ advertising campaign?”

    Uh, actually, no.  It’s not even on a list of 31 trillion things I wonder about.  What I do wonder about, Alex, is how long you thought of that line before typing it, then how long you considered scrubbing it before hitting “publish”. 

  • Tania Huiny

    I also heard that one of the designer who was a foreigner initially got the grammar wrong and wrote ‘Think Different’ rather than ‘Think Differently’. But everyone liked it so they went ahead with it.

  • Al

    When mature people get things wrong they apologise. They don’t keep insisting they’re right, especially when everyone else can see they got it wrong and are laughing.

    I’m getting sick of people like this on here. Can CultOfMac adopt some sort of policy where you have to be over 14 years old to comment? Maybe tie it in to Facebook somehow to make sure its complied with?

    Or at least moderate the anonymously posted comments to weed out time wasters like Mr “Guest”?

  • Al

    Wow.

  • Brandon Dillon

    Words can’t even begin to come to me as to how I can convey to you how much of a douche-bag you are. People who have a passion and interest in the brand have an interest in this sort of thing. I for one am one of them.

    Good article, Alex.

  • Brandon Dillon

    Sucks so much that you returned to this page 3 times to respond.

About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath has been a staff writer at Cult of Mac for three years. He is also a co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by places like the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too. All DMs excepted.

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