Often taking a minimalist approach, Apple has gained a reputation for producing some of the world’s best advertisements. They’ve used historic figures and poked fun at competitors, all while maintaining a level of sophistication that reminds consumers Apple is more than just a computer or device.
A series of key advertisements show just how much has changed across five distinct eras.
1. Early Apple
The Apple I, the computing kit that was mostly built by Steve Wozniak in 1976, was such a bedroom project (or, as the legend would have it, a garage project) that it wasn’t really advertised in any formal way. It wasn’t until after its incorporation in 1977, and the release of the Apple II in the same year, that Apple started thinking about advertising its wares properly.
The new company hired a seasoned marketer called Regis McKenna – who declined a 20 per cent share of the company, preferring cash – to help with its campaigns. McKenna’s team designed what’s technically Apple’s second logo, although it’s often thought of as its first, a rainbow-coloured apple with a bite take out of it, chosen so that it couldn’t be mistaken for a cherry. The ads from this era established something of a template for the future, emphasising fun and creativity.
2. The Macintosh
The Macintosh was Steve Jobs’ creation, designed by him and a team of “pirates” while most of the rest of the company concentrated on the Apple II, the Apple III and the new Lisa. Jobs wanted the promotion of the machine to impress people almost as much as the machine itself. So the agency Chiat/Day, which had acquired the advertising division of McKenna’s operation, set about making a memorable series of campaigns.
The most memorable part came right at the beginning – with the TV advert known as ‘1984’, which was directed by Ridley Scott (who had recently made Blade Runner) and aired during that year’s Super Bowl. It didn’t show the Macintosh once. Instead, it showed a female athlete smashing the image of a Big Brother-like figure. For sale was an idea more than a product: freedom.
3. Without Steve Jobs
Impressive as it may have been, the Mac was expensive and didn’t sell very well. Its creator, Jobs, was eventually forced out of Apple, in 1985, for his hubris. So began a difficult period for the company, as it underwent changes of leadership, struggled against a rising number of competitors, and eventually faced bankruptcy. The adverts from this time are very similar, in tone and in look, to those published over a decade before – but the products they displayed didn’t hold much appeal for consumers.
4. Jobs returns
With Apple foundering, Jobs was returned to the company in 1996 and then made CEO a year later. With the British designer Jony Ive at his side, he developed the cheerful-looking iMac, then rehired the agency that had done the campaigns for the original Mac (now known as TBWA\Chiat\Day) to promote both it and Apple in general. They came up with a campaign and a slogan that are among the most celebrated in marketing history: pictures of various thinkers, inventors and artists, including Albert Einstein, Maria Callas and Bob Dylan, alongside the words “Think different”. Again, Apple was selling an idea more than a product; although it also gained new confidence in its products during those years, not least because they were beautifully designed. Many subsequent ads featured the company’s latest device, from the iPod to the iPad, on a white background.
5. The Tim Cook years
TBWA – or, more specifically, a dedicated arm of TBWA, called the Media Arts Lab – has remained Apple’s advertising agency in the years since Tim Cook took over in 2011. Increasingly, their work concentrates on what Apple devices can do (e.g. the famous “Shot on iPhone” campaign) or on the company’s broader ideals. Visitors to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2018 were confronted by a massive billboard with the words “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone”; the first entry in an ongoing series of advertisements about Apple’s commitment to privacy.
Words by Peter Hoskin. All images courtesy of Apple and Getty Images