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.