How Steve Jobs and Apple Changed Advertising Forever

Over the past two weeks the media has gone CRAZY over Steve Jobs and the legacy he left behind. I’m subscribed to Times and Businessweek, and both magazines did special editions where the whole magazine was dedicated to Jobs, as did many other magazines. I’m not trying to hop on the bandwagon really, but I want to talk about another side of Steve Jobs, that is, Steve Jobs the Marketer.

I believe that Steve Jobs and Apple changed the way companies approach advertising, PR and marketing in general. I think Apple almost revolutionized the advertising industry with the way they marketed the company and advertised their products. As with almost everything at Apple, Jobs had both hands on the advertising wheel at Apple, and he had to personally approve almost every type of ad that had Apple’s name on it.

From a young age, I can remember watching Apple commercials on TV and seeing print ads in magazines and loving them. Now that I’ve almost completed my marketing degree, I can see why. Jobs has always done advertising the right way. Every commercial they make, every print ad that is created, is done the Apple way.

So how has Apple changed advertising? Well let’s start from the beginning.

In 1984, Apple wanted to create a buzz around its newest product, the Macintosh. Apple produced what is now hailed as one the best commercials of all time, and began their mission to create the best advertising in the industry. The TV commercial was directed by Ridley Scott and created by Lee Clow, then a creative at Chiat/Day advertising agency. The commercial was hugely expensive to make and featured a female heroine defying conformity, underlying Apple’s attack on the status quo and positioning itself as a somewhat of a cult brand.

The commercial was not only critically acclaimed across the advertising industry, but it also started the trend of having super expensive TV ads aired during the Superbowl, a tradition that continues to get more popular, and competitive today.

After the “1984” commercial, however, Steve Jobs was fired along with Lee Clow and the Chiat/Day agency. Apple stumbled into darkness without Jobs and the brand image was hurt badly. Then in 1997, over ten years after he had been fired, Jobs came back to Apple and began to reshape the company. One of his main visions was to completely revitalize Apple’s image, and he began by rehiring Lee Clow and Chiat/Day.

He had a new vision for Apple, which materialized into the “Think Different” campaign. This campaign did not focus on any products, but instead began a trend of “lifestyle” advertising that continues to be very popular today. The commercials didn’t ever show any Apple product, but instead instilled a message, with the only mention of Apple being the logo at the end of the commercial. The print side of the campaign was also unique. Instead of computing and tech magazines, Apple bought space in fashion and pop culture mags. Chiat/Day also started another trend of using billboards and outdoor advertising for the campaign, which according to, was practically unheard of for a computer company at that time. The campaign won several ad awards and single-handedly revived Apple’s image and reestablished Apple as a counter-culture brand.

Jobs’ friendship with Lee Clow continued, and the Chiat/Day agency soon became part of the larger TBWA ad agency. Lee Clow worked on pretty much every advertising campaign that Apple did, which is very rare for a big company like Apple. Most companies jump around from one agency to the next, choosing whoever they think will be best for that particular campaign or product. Lee Clow and TBWA have been Apple’s only ad agency for the better part of 30 years, not counting the years when Job’s left Apple.

Jobs felt so strongly about proper marketing and advertising for Apple that he and Clow went one-step further. In 2006, Jobs and Clow created Media Arts Lab, a subsidiary of TBWA that worked for ONE client only: Apple. In this sense, Apple had an EXCLUSIVE agency that worked just for them, headed by a Clow and Jobs. This was also a first for the industry, but Jobs wanted something the typical agency couldn’t offer: strategy, planning, creative, digital, media, production, and most importantly confidentiality, all under one roof (Evening London Standard).

Steve Jobs and Lee Clow, 1984

“Two characteristics made handling Apple’s advertising utterly different from any other account: an obsession with secrecy and an absolute autocracy. Steve and Lee would meet weekly for several hours to agree direction. Apple marketing was a tight, incredibly centrally run team with ideas being agreed in Cupertino [Apple HQ in California] and then being disseminated across the world via the TBWA network.” Said Andrew McGuinness, head of TBWA from 2002-2005. “Steve had the same relentless focus on detail on communications as he did on his products. Every letter, every TV ad, every poster that ran anywhere in the world would be OK’d personally by Steve. He truly was the Brand Manager of Apple.”

Having an exclusive agency at Jobs disposal allowed Apple to create some of the most memorable ads and campaigns of any tech company, ever. After Think Different, Apple went away from lifestyle advertising to focus on their products. But unlike other companies, Apple didn’t focus on how fast the processors were, how much RAM they came with, how big the hard drivers were, or specs at all for that matter. Apple focused on how their products could change your life. They focused on what products could do for the consumer, how they could use them and what they had to offer. This was brilliant.

According to AdAge, Apple has become one of the top 100 US advertisers by spending $420 million on advertising last year. Almost $200 million of that went to network TV, and $33 million went to bilboards. Only $24 million went to internet media, and unlike other brands who spend money on budget banner ads and online advertisements, most of this went to high-end home page take-overs on sites like the NY Times, WSJ and USA Today.

Almost every advertising campaign Apple did was done simply, effectively and beautifully, thanks to Steve Jobs. Says CMO Robert Birge, “Who could possibly compare as a marketer?” “He taught ad people that design is king,” says Venables Bell & Partners creative director Paul Venables. Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s John Hegarty explained Jobs’ approach to advertising as, “the task of advertising was to not get in the way of his brilliant innovations, but to simply shine a light on them. So many brands could learn from this example.” More quotes here.

Here are some more of Apple’s most memorable advertisements:

Feel free to leave any questions or comments below!

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