How Apple’s Vision Fueled Growth – Branding Lessons

Legend has it that way back when the PC dinosaurs still walked the Earth, returning company co-founder Steve Jobs sought a mantra to show Apple was back in business, and the acclaimed ‘Think Different’ campaign was born. Here’s what really happened.

It was early July 1997. Lee Clow, the CEO and Chief Creative Officer of TBWA Chiat/ Day and  Rob Siltanen, the creative director and managing partner at TBWA/Chiat/Day were on a flight for a meeting at Apple. Steve Jobs had recently come back to Apple as their interim CEO, and he was looking to make some changes. Apple was in trouble, big time. They had only 90 days of money. Steve was back at the helm, but the big question was, were they going to survive? Steve was looking at a couple of agencies. He needed to select on who ‘gets it’. Apple was hemorrhaging and the company was in worse shape than he had imagined. Apple had some decent products but needed to get things figured out and wanted to run some print ads in the computer magazines until they got things figured out.

Rob Siltanen didn’t approve of that approach. Half the world was thinking that Apple is going to die. A few print ads in the computer magazines weren’t going to do anything for the brand. They needed to show the world that Apple was as strong as a lion. Nobody was going to stand around the water cooler talking about print ads. They needed to do something bigger and bolder. They need to do TV and other things that were going to give them true momentum.

Lee Clow had initially decided against participating a pitch.  He had always talked about how wrong it was that agencies had to spend their own big money in order to pitch accounts. And especially that time, the agency was on a roll. They had been named agency of the year by the top trade magazines, and we were winning a lot of new business, including some major accounts without pitching at all. Lee always felt that Chiat/Day never deserved to lose the Apple business in the first place. But this was different. If they win this thing, they would have a great story to tell. He want to get it back.”

Back at the agency Rob  gathered the creative teams and briefed them on the assignment. No breakthrough products were on the horizon, and Apple had planned on a standard product ad. The assignment wasn’t to come up with a big idea. But they took it as ‘Holy smokes, this is Apple possibly coming back to Chiat. Let’s give them a big idea!’. There was no time to wait for a long written-out strategy or to put together a detailed creative brief. We needed to figure out how to get Apple back on track fast. All of the creatives had used Apple computers for years. They were not only well aware of the brand — they lived it and loved it every day. They really didn’t need a formal strategy.

Apple had some brand zealots in various creative industries, and the initial thought was that the best way to stop the bleeding was to do some testimonials with famous celebrities who were heard as Apple backers. They found that people such as Steven Spielberg and Sting used Apple computers, and so did several other prominent creative stars. Conversely, they saw a lot of articles talking about Apple negatively — many people in the business world were calling Apple computers “toys” that were incapable of “real” computing.

Art director, Craig Tanimoto opened his sketchbook and began playing with ideas. He understood that the the agency needed a big idea for a big problem. Craig opened his sketchbook and started drawing variations on Keith Haring’s radiant baby. He doodled some Apple logos, shooting off radiant power lines. Tanimoto drew further inspiration from Rene Magritte’s seminal surrealist work, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” Out popped Tanimoto’s first big concept, a huge billboard featuring a boxy Mac, and a slogan you can see as inspired by Magritte, “This is not a box,”.

The Treachery of Images, 1928–29, (sometimes translated as The Treason of Images) also known as This Is Not a Pipe and The Wind and the Song, is a painting by the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte. The picture shows a pipe. Below it, Magritte painted, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe.", French for "This is not a pipe." "The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture 'This is a pipe', I'd have been lying!" — René Magritte

What would become ‘Think Different’ was gestating, but hadn’t quite been born. From there he played with Dr. Seuss imagery, doodling goofy, long-necked yellow Star-bellied Sneetches and pondering how some are unique and some are social outcasts. Putting words in their mouths, he scribbled in a cartoon dialog box: “Think Different.” Craig’s heart started pounding. He circled the words, and scanned his sketches, taking in the Keith Haring drawing. Now, he put the Apple logo with the radiant lines over Thomas Edison’s head. Then, he paired a sketch of Edison with just the words, “Think Different.” He felt another rush of excitement, and sketched Einstein with the thought bubble “Think Different.” Then Gandhi. And at that point, he thought: “this is a big idea!”

The next week they gathered in a large conference room. About four different creative teams had work represented. The room’s walls were plastered with ads, and Craig was thinking to himself that every ad seemed more appropriate than his.  But there was one campaign that jumped out at Rob. And it jumped out in a big way. It was a billboard campaign that had simple black and white photographs of revolutionary people and events. One ad had a photo of Einstein. Another had a photo of Thomas Edison. Another had a photo of Gandhi. Another had the famous photo of flowers placed in gun barrels during the protest of the Vietnam War. At the top of each image was the rainbow-colored Apple logo and the words “Think Different.” Nothing else. Rob loved it. But at the same time, the work seemed in need of explanation. He asked Craig what it all meant, and he said, “IBM has a campaign out that says “Think IBM” (it was a campaign for their ThinkPad), and I feel Apple is very different from IBM, so I felt “Think Different” was interesting. I then thought it would be cool to attach those words to some of the world’s most different-thinking people.”

Lee walked through each one, and then stopped at Craig’s and asked: “Should it be, ‘Think Differently?’”. “No,” said Craig. Clow paused. “You’re right,” he said, and then announced, “This is the campaign. Everyone’s working on this one.”. At this point, the entire team started working on television concepts, and several art directors started finding other famous black-and-white images that would be turned into magazine ads. Meanwhile, Clow had Jennifer Golub, one of the agency’s most talented and artistic broadcast producers, begin looking for video footage of legendary people. Clow came up with the inspired idea of using Seal’s haunting song “Crazy,” with the key lyric, “We’re never going to survive unless we get a little crazy” as the driving force to the video. Rob worked with Clow on a title card explaining the concept that throughout history, true visionaries have gone against the grain and thought differently, and Apple makes tools for these types of people.

After the video played, a series of title cards appeared. ‘There are people who see the world differently. They see things in new ways. They invent, create, imagine. We make tools for these kinds of people. Because while some might see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. (FADE TO APPLE LOGO AND TAGLINE) Think different.’ The video, cut by Dan Bootzin, Chiat’s gifted in-house editor, was strong and moving. It was also about two minutes long. They relentlessly tried to cut the video down to a 60-second spot and gave up.

Early writing for To The Crazy Ones. Rob originally wanted Robin Williams to voice the commercial. (photo courtesy of Rob Siltanen)

On Pitch day, Jobs walked to the presentation room at apple with a few other people from Apple, and on that day he seemed like he was in very good spirits. Clow began the pitch, and the more he started talking, the more enthusiastic and passionate he became. He took Jobs through their thinking and walked him through the outdoor, print and TV spots. He closed with the mood video and finished by saying he thought this was the right campaign and they were the right agency.

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 they had in their bag of tricks, and Rob thought for certain they 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.” After they had officially won the business, Steve (as predicted) said he wanted to run the Seal video as a commercial. He had become mesmerized with the video, and he wanted to cut it down to a :60. The told him they had unsuccessfully tried this before the pitch, but would try some more. They tried again and again, but it still wouldn’t work.

Rob, had told Steve that he would write a manifesto that would be even better. Eventually, he had a few versions that he felt worked nicely. He shared his scripts with Lee, and he thought they were good. He made a couple tweaks, and they put his voice on a 60-second rough cut. They shared it with quite a few people around the office, and several people said it gave them goosebumps. Lee and Rob flew to Cupertino to play the spot in person to Jobs. Only the three of them were in the room. They 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!”. Steve continued to go on a rant about how they should get the writers from “Dead Poets Society” or some “real writers” to write something. Rob told him, “Steve, you may not like the piece, but it doesn’t suck.” Jobs continued to say he thought it was crap, and Clow, trying to put the fire out, said we’d go back and try some other things.

When Clow and Rob left the building, he told Clow he had given the script everything he had, and he thought it was best Lee get someone else to deal with Jobs. He agreed. One of the writers given the assignment was Ken Segall. One day, Ken came to Rob’s office and said, “Jobs has seen a ton of scripts, and he’s gone full circle …we’re moving ahead with your ‘Crazy Ones’ script. I made some tweaks. I hope you don’t mind.”. Ken had added some beautiful additions to the TV script, and he created a long copy version of the script that was turned into a magazine and newspaper ad. His additional touches were terrific, and he truly did make the spot better than ever, but the heart and soul of the spot from the original version stayed fully intact.

Ken had added some beautiful additions to the TV script, and he created a long copy version of the script that was turned into a magazine and newspaper ad. His additional touches were terrific, and he truly did make the spot better than ever, but the heart and soul of the spot from the original version stayed fully intact. The team at Chiat/Day was adamant that if Jobs truly believed the ad’s message, written by a Chiat/Day art director, he should read it himself. Jobs begrudgingly agreed to give them one read of the script. However, after his reading, there was a great pause, and he said: ‘That’s it, I’m out of here. This is a horrible idea,’ and he stormed off. Jobs thought it was a terrible idea for him to voice the commercial because people would think he was an egomaniac. While Rob had always hoped Robin Williams would be the voice over, he refused to do any form of advertising, so they ended up going with Richard Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss gave the “Crazy Ones” spot a slow, gritty and unique read that made each word seem all the more important. He ended up being the perfect choice, and he would have been next to impossible to top.

The final text read: “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. And 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.”

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