Today in Apple history: It’s time to ‘Think different’

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Think-Different
And just like that, a catchy slogan turns into an earworm.
Image: Apple

August 8: Today in Apple history: Steve Jobs introduces new Apple new slogan, Think different August 8, 1997: At Macworld Expo, Steve Jobs introduces the world to Apple’s new slogan, “Think different.” The catchy marketing reassures fans that Apple is exiting its mid-1990s dark age and once again making products customers will love.

It’s the beginning of Apple’s most iconic advertising campaign since the original “1984” Macintosh ad.

Apple goes back to TBWA Chiat/Day ad agency

“Think different” was a homecoming for Apple in a few ways. It was the first Apple ad produced by TBWA Chiat/Day in more than a decade. Apple dropped the ad agency in 1985, following the notorious “Lemmings” commercial. (A follow-up to “1984,” this poorly received campaign showed computer users marching off a cliff.)

In TBWA Chiat/Day’s place, Apple brought on rival agency BBDO. However, when Jobs resumed control of Apple, he wanted to switch back.

The “Think different” phrase came from TBWA Chiat/Day copywriter Craig Tanimoto. As I detailed in my book The Apple Revolution, one of Tanimoto’s ideas for a new Apple ad included a Dr. Seuss-style poem about computers. It wasn’t good, but he liked the two words “think different” — despite their now infamous lack of proper grammar.

“My heart started racing because no one had really voiced that idea for Apple,” he told me. “I looked over at [a picture I had drawn] of Thomas Edison and thought, ‘think different.’ I [next] drew a little sketch of Einstein and wrote ‘think different’ next to him as well and drew a miniature Apple logo.”

The “Here’s to the crazy ones” lines for the “Think different” ad were written by other copywriters, Rob Siltanen and Ken Segall. (Segall also named the iMac.)

Think different: A trial run

Although the campaign wasn’t finished by the time of the 1997 Macworld Expo, Jobs tried a variation on the words in front of the audience of Apple fans. His presentation planted the seeds for the ad so it would seem more organic when Apple debuted the new marketing push.

“I want to just talk a little about Apple and the brand and what it means, I think, to a lot of us. You know, I think you always had to be a little different to buy an Apple computer. When we shipped the Apple II, you had to think different about computers. Computers were these things you saw in movies [that] occupied giant rooms. They weren’t these things you had on your desktop. You had to think differently because there wasn’t any software at the beginning.

You had to think differently when a first computer arrived at a school where there had never been one before, and it was an Apple II. I think you had to really think differently when you bought a Mac. It was a totally different computer, worked in a totally different way, used a totally different part of your brain. And it opened up a computer world for a lot of people who thought differently … And I think you still have to think differently to buy an Apple computer.”

Apple still thinks different

Apple discontinued the “Think different” campaign with the arrival of the iMac G4 in 2002. However, the slogan’s impact continues to be felt in much the same way as the “1984” Mac ad.

We know, for example, that Tim Cook keeps a copy of one of the original “Think different” ads in his office. With Apple now a market leader, and competitors copying its every move and strategy, thinking different isn’t always easy. But the Cupertino company continues to impress us with some of its bold moves — and the recent $1 trillion valuation is proof positive things are working.

Do you remember Apple’s “Think different” ad campaign? Do you think Apple still epitomizes that worldview today? Which Apple (or other) computer did you own in July 1997? Leave your comments below.