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From the file

Tech States: Apple | Apple is more than a company. It is a superpower. It was the first company to be worth more than $1 trillion, a size matched by under 30 national economies. And like the other tech giants that now shape our everyday lives, it has global influence – like a nation state.

Mastering the aesthetic: The story of Apple in ads

Mastering the aesthetic: The story of Apple in ads

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.

An early ad for the Apple II, from 1977
An Apple II ad gives readers the chance to win an all-expense paid trip for two to Hawaii, 1979
A 1980 ad depicting Benjamin Franklin designing a kite on the Apple II
A 1981 Apple ad
The Lisa 1 was the first commercial computer with a graphical user interface (1983)
This Apple III ad from 1983 focused on the joys of email

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.

Page one of the original “Macintosh Introduction” brochure published in Newsweek magazine, 1984
An Apple ad targeting parents, 1984
Apple CEO John Sculley was behind the “Test Drive a Macintosh” campaign to encourage people to give the new computer a chance after disappointing initial sales

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.

The 1992 PowerBook ad featuring one of Apple’s co-founders, Steve Wozniak
The Apple Newton MessagePad was the first to feature handwriting recognition (1994)
Apple’s “What’s on your Power Book” ad campaign from 1996

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.

The iMac was launched in 1998, an all-in-one monitor and computer
1998 Think Different ad featuring Muhammad Ali
Apple’s 1998 snail advert pokes fun at the Intel Pentium II processor compared to their G3 chip
iMacs in Blueberry, Grape, Tangerine, Lime and Strawberry launched in January 1999
The Power Mac G4 Cube was unveiled by Steve Jobs at the Macworld Expo in New York in July 2000
This 2000 ad for the iBook G3 exemplifies Apple’s often-used minimalist approach
The Power Mac G4 were marketed by Apple, in 2001, as the first “personal supercomputers”
The iPod launch, 2001
The iMac G4 launch, in 2002
The silhouette campaign for the iPod, in 2003
An advert for the original iPhone in 2007
This App Store ad celebrates over one billion downloads since its launch in July 2008
Launch of the iPad 2 featuring front and back cameras, 2011

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.

This 2015 campaign for the iPhone 6 showcased images shot by iPhone photographers
The Apple Watch series 3 ad shows how users can leave their phone at home and still make calls, send texts and stream music
Apple made its presence felt at CES 2019 with a massive billboard highlighting the iPhone’s privacy features.

Words by Peter Hoskin. All images courtesy of Apple and Getty Images

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Sourcing and further reading

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