Today in Apple history: Steve Jobs says Apple is being run by ‘caretakers’

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1984
Steve Jobs thought ditching ad agency Chiat/Day proved that Apple had lost its creative mojo.
Photo: Apple and Chiat/Day

May 27: Today in Apple history: Steve Jobs says Apple is being run by caretakers May 27, 1986: An exiled Steve Jobs takes a shot at Apple after the company ditches Chiat/Day, the ad agency that created the iconic “1984” Macintosh ad.

In a full-page ad published in The Wall Street Journal, Jobs says the move to competing ad agency BBDO shows that “caretakers” rather than “builders” now run Apple. From his perspective, it confirms that Apple has lost its revolutionary spirit.

The handover to BBDO

Chiat/Day was best known for producing the Ridley Scott-directed original Macintosh ad during the agency’s first stint at Apple. However, the Chiat/Day’s work did not always prove a comfortable fit for the company. Apple’s board of directors actually hated the “1984” ad — and almost shelved it completely.

The board’s assessment proved wildly wrong on that occasion, and the “1984” ad went on to wide acclaim. However, a 1985 follow-up called “Lemmings,” created to promote Macintosh Office, bombed hard. With Jobs forced out of Apple that year, switching ad agencies became part of CEO John Sculley’s mission to put his own stamp on things.

Sculley’s favorite agency — Batten, Barton, Dustine and Osborn, aka BBDO — won Apple’s ad business, worth $50 million a year in the U.S. at the time. BBDO seemed like an obvious pick in some ways, since it had handled Apple’s overseas advertising since 1981 (except in Japan, Canada and Australia).

Chiat/Day, meanwhile, had been Apple’s agency since virtually day one. Originally, Apple employed Regis McKenna Advertising in Palo Alto, California, but Chiat/Day bought that company in 1979.

We are disappointed, but not surprised,” said Chiat/Day chairman Jay Chiat after news of Apple’s decision to move to BBDO was announced. “We had a good time on the account…. We find that when we lose business it is after there has been a change of management at the client.”

Apple was thinking different

Jobs’ high-profile response was perhaps the most interesting part of the story. By 1986, he had founded NeXT, which was working toward releasing its first computer.

By taking out a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal, Jobs issued a consoling message to Chiat/Day. At the same time, he shared his views on Apple’s future. The ad read:

“Congratulations, Chiat/Day. Seriously. Congratulations on seven years of consistently outstanding work. You helped build Apple and were an integral part of the marketing team. You took risks, sometimes failed, never compromised. The personal computer industry is now being handed over from the ‘builders’ to the ‘caretakers;’ that is, from the individuals who created and grew a multi-billion dollar American industry to those who will maintain the industry as it is and work to achieve marginal future growth.

It is inevitable that in this turbulent transition many faces will change. You created some truly great work — the kind that gives advertising a good name. The kind people will remember for years. The kind people remain proud to have been associated with. I’m expecting some new, ‘insanely great’ advertising from you soon. Because I can guarantee you: there is life after Apple. Thanks for the memories.”

The “Congratulations… Seriously” line was a reference to a full-page ad Apple took out in 1981, welcoming IBM to the personal computer industry. However, much of the remaining sentiment showed just how much things had changed in the last few years.

Ultimately, Chiat/Day and Apple stayed apart for the next decade but began working together again once Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. Their first new ad together? The famous “Think Different” campaign.