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The Real Story Behind Apple's 'Think Different' Campaign (forbes.com)
118 points by username3 2190 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

There is an amazing, astounding paragraph in this article. Picture the scene. Steve Jobs looks at the pitch, and is actually, viscerally grabbed by fear. The fear that all of us experience once in a while when we realize there is a big opportunity ahead, but one that we need to jump off the cliff to grab. And he realizes the fear has grabbed him, and he pushes it away. "What am I doing?" he asks himself. "Screw it. It’s the right thing." And he jumps off the cliff, taking one great leap towards saving Apple.

Here's the paragraph in full:

"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 we had in our bag of tricks, and I thought for certain we 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.” In a matter of seconds, right before our very eyes, he had done a complete about-face."

One of the elements that made the TV ad so effective (and is common today with premier brands such as Nike) - was that the actual Apple Logo only appeared for a few brief seconds at the very end of the commercial.

It's a fine line between setting the mood, and not being crass - (for the opposite, see "GoDaddy") but hopefully not being so subtle nobody can figure out what the ad was for.

There is a chipotle ad playing in the movies to the tune of "back to the start" that has a similar effect.

The first time I saw it, I was blown away by the Chipotle logo in the closing seconds.

Yes, it's a very effective ad. I spent every moment after the first five seconds trying to figure out what it was an ad for, and in that last logo reveal it all made perfect sense.

The final Apple TV version:

"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. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. 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."

The version for which Jobs said "It sucks! I hate it! It's advertising agency shit!":

"To the crazy ones. Here's to the misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. Here's to the ones who see the world differently. They're the ones who invent and imagine and create. They're the ones who push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world are the ones who actually do."

The devil is in the details. I'd be also very unsatisfied with the line: "They're the ones who invent and imagine and create." Like a kid writing.

Also note that Jobs practically selected the whole concept, before, "on the spot" even if he expressed doubts -- most people would "sleep over it" or whatever -- he decided immediately. Really to be respected.

Every edit there blows away the original. Perfect example of the power and value of precise, exhaustive editing.

I think the turns of rhetorical device are most notable: why would the original not start with "here's to"?! You don't just rip into a toast mid-paragraph. The pacing and repetition in the first draft had no logic behind the choices, while the final piece is pitch perfect on several levels. Editing!

I wish that the Isaacson's biography of Jobs had contained this level of detail. I just love reading about how all the different threads of the story came together to produce the Think Different commercial. I often found the biography to be brief on detail and too verbose when it came to repeating Jobs's flaws. Overall the book was inspiring but I felt it was despite, not because of, Isaacson's writing.

I was terribly disappointed in Isaacson's book as well.

His entire account up until Jobs' return to Apple, and even mostly up to the development of the iPhone, was thin on detail, and completely familiar information to anyone who followed Steve Jobs' career.

I found myself wondering many times why he needed several years of direct access to Steve Jobs to turn out what was, in essence, a secondary research report.

Given the length of this piece on just a small part of the book, I think you'd end up with encyclopedic tomes about Steve Jobs + Apple. This may not be a bad thing, but it would be a huge thing.

As js2 quotes from the biography, Jobs said about Lee and the campaign: "He and his team had come up with this brilliant idea, "Think Different."" I'd say Jobs gave the proper credit. Now we have a version of the events from the guy who wrote the start and the end of the text and one insight more.

Seems that the biggest contributor to the Think Different concept was whoever created Nike's athlete ads. Think Different follows essentially the same style/format but instead starring athletes it stars historical figures. Really quite derivative.

Jobs even mentions the Nike ads in a talk about Think Different: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vNjpgLD0Xw

"Just do it" ads started in 1988, almost a decade before Think Different campaign, here's to compare:


Thanks for posting the Jobs' ad introduction, I've seen his talk before, but I as watched it after reading both the article and Isaacson's bio I saw something new and different.

I also have an impression that Rob Siltanen didn't remember correctly the Jobs' attire on that day as he saw him, that it was not actually a "black mock turtleneck" but a black sweater just like in the video.

I suppose in the sense that they are both celebrating greatness, they are similar, but Nike's ads were generally about celebrating great athletes and they filmed them performing while they were still in their prime for the express purpose of making an advertisement and paid them tons of money to do so. The Think Different campaign used historical figures and archival footage. As far as the style and format, montage is as old as Eisenstein, so in that sense, practically everything after him is "quite derivative."

Kinda OT, but forbes.com doesn't let me view the whole article on one page and as an avid instapaper user, this makes the experience cumbersome.

Exactly, what I was looking for, thanks a ton! :)

When I read about the 'Think Different' campaign in the Isaacson book, I was surprised to find out that they had recording a version of the ad with Jobs doing the voiceover instead of Richard Dreyfus.

I looked the ad up right away on YouTube, along with the Dreyfus one, and compared the two. The Jobs one was so much more powerful, but the power likely came from 1) his death and 2) everything that occurred AFTER the campaign and before his death. Apple was clearly better off with the Dreyfus ad at the time, even though the Jobs version seems so much better now.

I think Jobs' voice works surprisingly well for that ad. I especially like they way he says "and they have no respect for the status quo" for some reason.

[1] Steve Job's Voice http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQaAg3uxS24

I'm particularly interested that this article seems to defy the anecdote about Chiat/Day presenting the campaign with the tagline 'Think Differently', and Jobs making the change to 'Think Different'.

Whichever the case, the decision to use Different instead of Differently is profound.

That's not how it's recounted in the Isaacson biography. Jobs says it was pitched as "Think Different." and that they debated Different vs Differently after it was pitched.

This chokes me up, this really chokes me up. It was so clear that Lee loved Apple so much. Here was the best guy in advertising. And he hadn’t pitched in ten years. Yet here he was, and he was pitching his heart out, because he loved Apple as much as we did. He and his team had come up with this brilliant idea, “Think Different.” And it was ten times better than anything the other agencies showed. It choked me up, and it still makes me cry to think about it, both the fact that Lee cared so much and also how brilliant his “Think Different” idea was. Every once in a while, I find myself in the presence of purity—purity of spirit and love—and I always cry. It always just reaches in and grabs me. That was one of those moments. There was a purity about that I will never forget. I cried in my office as he was showing me the idea, and I still cry when I think about it.


They debated the grammatical issue: If “different” was supposed to modify the verb “think,” it should be an adverb, as in “think differently.” But Jobs insisted that he wanted “different” to be used as a noun, as in “think victory” or “think beauty.” Also, it echoed colloquial use, as in “think big.” Jobs later explained, “We discussed whether it was correct before we ran it. It’s grammatical, if you think about what we’re trying to say. It’s not think the same, it’s think different. Think a little different, think a lot different, think different. ‘Think differently’ wouldn’t hit the meaning for me.”

"Nobody stands around the water cooler talking about print ads." Outside ad agencies, does anybody stand around the water cooler talking about TV ads? This reads to me as if Julia Ward Howe were to explain how she turned the tide of the Civil War after First Manassas...

If you lived in Silicon Valley, Apple had HUGE banners with their Think Different campaign that you could see from 280. I distinctly remember driving around there in 1997, and seeing the banner with Einstein's face, if I remember correctly, and getting goosebumps.

And this was when Apple was a laughingstock at the Brass Ring job fairs (if any of you remember those). I remember no one even bothering to line up for a job for Apple.

I have never lived in California. As to Einstein, the columnist Charles Krauthammer remarked that one common attribute of the notables depicted in the campaign--Einstein, Gandhi, etc.--was that none had ever used a computer, let alone a Mac.

In the 90's, yes, people talked about ads. The internet was too slow for anything other than light information and DVRs were an early adopter dream. People watched them and talked about them.

We're talking about ads right now.

So it was copied from IBM.

TL;DR Please

Business folks have over-simplified Jobs' contribution to the Think Different campaign by making it seem he single-handedly was responsible for it. A handful of people on Lee Clow's team were primarily responsible for the creation of the ad. Jobs originally hated the concept and within a few minutes decided it was the right one to choose. Then he changed his mind again after seeing the script for the ad. This original script -- strictly in my opinion -- sounded bland. It is given in the article. I can see where his "it's shit" comment came from. The agency investigated some other options while the author of the original script got fed up and moved onto other companies campaigns. Jobs then re-visited the original script along with Lee Clow. Jobs was able to use his influence to make this version better by getting Clow to lure more talented writers to tweak the script, voice actors to read it, and nicer pictures/scenes for the imagery in the ad.

Business folks have over-simplified Jobs' contribution to everything by making it seem he single-handedly was responsible for anything.

I absolutely agree. I'm looking forward to a lot more accounts like this one. I admire Jobs, but I admire him because he knew when to get involved and when to leave smart people alone.

His ability to make decisions and ensure things got done is admirable. I've been involved with far too many business folks who you have to hand-hold through every step of a project only to have them be spineless and scared of making decisions. This account validates my assumption that a significant reason that Jobs was effective was because he could commit to a strategy. Far too many companies can't because their strategy is being dictated to by short term stock pricing.

I heard he even cured can-- aww.... sorry...

Too soon. He was a very flawed person, but will be missed nevertheless.

Missed, yes, but, if there were two Steve Jobses in this world, you can be sure of two things:

  1. They'd hate each other
  2. The other would have laughed at that joke.

"Jobs originally hated the concept and within a few minutes decided it was the right one to choose."

Your summary is mostly good, but this one statement is totally incorrect as a summary of what the article said.

According to the article, Jobs thought the concept was great but was hesitant to run it because he was afraid it would invite too much backlash due to him already being seen as an egotist.

There's a huge difference between that and saying he hated it.

Great summary - Ironically, your analysis is probably more accurate than Issacson's Biography, Job's Recall, and Siltanen's version.

Siltanen has the _core_ of a great idea, but without polishing, polishing, polishing - it likely would never have grown into the memorable campaign that it became.

Luckily, Clow as able to work with Jobs - and didn't give up as quickly as Siltanen did.

I agree that it is easy to defend that the original presentation "was shit" but that it could be loved. Not only was the final text far superior, setting it to a pop song sounds awful (coming from a Seal liker/lover).

Do you watch movies or trailers? If you watch the latter, then why bother even walking into the theater?

It's a fantastic article. Reading the "TL;DR" version will never give you the same experience.

Your trailer analogy is a good one.

It's hard for me to devote the time to a 4,000 word article (or whatever this is), but if it's going to be worth it, I'll do it.

The TL;DR version here has convinced me to go back and give this a read later, when I have time to give it my attention.

The moment that about face happened, when he said, "Screw it." That was when Mr. Jobs created the campaign. Certainly there was creative work involved that deserves much credit, but the leap was made in that mind and in that moment. In the first page of the online article, more deference ought to have been paid to the man for that reason.

I am NOT a Mac.

I gave up on reading this article after the first page. Please spare us the X is great but I am greater speeches.

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