Case Study of Apple Inc: “Think Different” Branding Campaign

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple on April 1, 1976. The two Steves, Jobs and Woz (as he is commonly referred to — see, have personalities that persist throughout Apple’s products, even today. Jobs was the consummate salesperson and visionary while Woz was the inquisitive technical genius. Woz developed his own homemade computer and Jobs saw its commercial potential. After selling 50 Apple I computer kits to Paul Terrell’s Byte Shop in Mountain View, CA, Jobs and Woz sought financing to sell their improved version, the Apple II.

They found their financier in Mike Markkula, who in turn hired Michael Scott to be CEO. The company introduced the Apple II on April 17, 1977, at the same time Commodore released their PET computer. Once the Apple II came with Visicalc, the progenitor of the modern spreadsheet program, sales increased dramatically. In 1979, Apple initiated three projects in order to stay ahead of the competition: 1) the Apple III — their business oriented machine, 2) the Lisa — the planned successor to the Apple III, and 3) Macintosh.

In 1980, the company released the Apple III to the public and was a commercial flop. It was too expensive and had several design flaws that made for less-than-stellar quality. One design flaw was a lack of cooling fans, which allowed chips to overheat. In late 1980, Apple went public, making the two Steves and Markkula wealthy — to the tune of nine figures. By 1981, the Apple III was not selling well and Scott infamously fired 40 people on Feb 25 (“Black Wednesday”). Scott’s direct management style conflicted with the culture Jobs and Markkula preferred, and Scott resigned in July. Markkula stepped into his position as CEO. In August 1981, IBM released their PC. Unimpressed and unafraid, Apple welcomed IBM to the PC market with a slightly smug full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal. It would not be long before IBM’s PC dominated the market.

The Xerox Alto was the inspiration for Apple’s Lisa. Apple employees were able to examine the Alto in exchange for allowing Xerox to invest in Apple before Apple’s initial public offering (IPO). Apple released the Lisa in January 1983 and was notable for being the first computer sold to the public that utilized a Graphic User Interface (GUI). Unfortunately, the Lisa was not compatible with existing computers, and therefore came bundled “with everything and a list price to match.” At $9,995 (over $21,000 in 2005 dollars), the Lisa missed its target market by a wide margin.

Jobs attempted to control the Lisa project. Scott, unimpressed with the performance of Jobs on the Apple III project, had Jobs head up the dog-and-pony show for the pending IPO. Jobs, looking for a project to lead, inserted himself into the Macintosh development team. Using his considerable influence, Jobs was able to procure the resources to produce a computer that was faster than Lisa, used a GUI, had a mouse, and sold for ¼th of Lisa’s price. Apple introduced the Macintosh with great fanfare during the 1984 Super Bowl. The Orwellian-themed commercial (directed by Ridley Scott, of ‘Alien’ fame) portrayed IBM as Big Brother and embodied Macintosh and Apple as freedom-seeking individuals breaking away from this oppressive regime.The commercial was largely successful and sales for the Mac started strong. However, Mac sales later faded. John Sculley left PepsiCo to join Apple in April 1983. He was famous for engineering the “Pepsi Challenge”, in which blinded testers tasted both Coke and Pepsi to unveil the ‘truth’ of the taste of Pepsi. In response to lagging Mac sales, Sculley contrived the ‘Test Drive a Macintosh’ campaign. In this promotion, prospective users could take home a Macintosh with only a refundable deposit on their credit card. While lauded by the public and the advertising industry, this campaign was a burden on dealers and significantly impeded the availability of Macs to serious buyers. In 1985, Apple tried to have lightening strike twice with their ‘Lemmings’ commercial during the Super Bowl. In what was becoming Apple’s typical patronizing fashion, this commercial insulted current PC users by portraying them as witless lemmings, unthinkingly doing harm to themselves. Although Jobs attempted to overthrow Sculley, the board backed Sculley. Jobs left Apple to form NeXT computer. After Jobs left in 1985, sales of the Mac “exploded when Apple’s LaserWriter met Aldus PageMaker.” Apple dominated the desktop publishing market for years to come. Under Sculley, Apple grew from $600 million in annual sales to $8 billion in annual sales by 1993. Apple introduced Mac Portables in 1989 and the first PowerBooks in 1991. By 1992, PC competition ate into Apple’s margins and earnings were falling. Sculley was under pressure to have Apple produce another breakout product. He focused his energy on the Newton — Apple’s introduction of the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). Despite Sculley generating substantial demand for Newton, it did not live up to the hype due to it being severely underdeveloped. Sculley resigned in 1993 and Michael Spindler replaced him.

Spindler spent most of his time and energies on regaining profitability, with the end goal of finding a buyer for Apple. Over the next several years, Spindler shopped Apple to Sun Microsystems, Eastman Kodak, AT&T, and IBM. Meanwhile, Apple was unable to meet the growing demand for its products due to supplier problems and faulty demand predictions. To add insult to injury, Microsoft released Windows 95 with great fanfare in 1995. After significant quarterly losses in 1996, the board replaced Spindler with Dr. Gil Amelio, CEO of National Semiconductor. Dr. Amelio tried to bring Apple back to basics, simplifying the product lines and restructuring the company. One of Apple’s most pressing issues at the time was releasing their next generation operating system (code named “Copland”) to compete with Windows 95. Amelio and his technology officers found that Copland was so behind schedule that they looked outside the company to purchase a new OS. Ultimately, and somewhat ironically, they decided to purchase NeXT computer from Jobs. Naturally, Apple welcomed Jobs back into the fold. The board became increasingly impatient with Amelio due to sales not rebounding quickly enough. Apple bought out Amelio’s contract after just 1 ½ years on the job. Jobs eventually claimed the CEO position. Then, he cleaned house by revamping the board of directors and even replacing Mike Markkula (who had been with the company since the beginning). Jobs simultaneously put an end to the fledgling clone licensing agreements (which created a few Mac clones) and entered into cross-licensing agreements with Microsoft.

Overview of Apples “Think Different” Campaign

In early 1997 Apple was in danger of ending its second consecutive profitless year. In an attempt to salvage the Apple brand, Apple’s board of directors invited the company’s cofounder, Steve Jobs, to lead as CEO. The homecoming was bittersweet. More than a decade earlier the board of directors had asked Jobs to resign. After his return to leadership Jobs consolidated Apple’s advertising account with one agency, reduced Apple’s product line from 14 to 4, and hoped to build consumer confidence in the Apple brand with a campaign called ‘‘Think Different.’’ The $90 million ‘‘Think Different’’ campaign debuted on September 28, 1997, with a 60-second spot aired during the television network premiere of the animated film A Toy Story. The global campaign, which included television spots, print ads in newspapers and magazines, and outdoor displays on billboards, bus wraps, and wall coverings, featured stark black-and-white photographs of maverick thinkers such as Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sir Richard Branson, and John Lennon. The first spot featured a voice-over by the actor Richard Dreyfuss and ended with the Apple logo and the tagline ‘‘Think Different.’’ It was produced by the advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day, although the ‘‘Think Different’’ concept itself had emerged from a collaborative effort between the agency’s worldwide creative director, Lee Clow, and Steve Jobs. The campaign ended in 2002.

think different campaign analysis

‘‘Think Different’’ improved Apple’s bottom line. In April 1998 the company reported its second straight profitable quarter after nearly two years and $2 billion in losses. Although Apple increased its market share at the beginning of ‘‘Think Different,’’ in early 2002 it was again posting profit losses. Some advertising analysts criticized ‘‘Think Different’’ for aiming Apple products at artists, writers, designers, and revolutionaries–all minorities in the computer-using community.

Historical Context of Campaign

In August 1997 Jobs, who had cofounded Apple Computer in his garage 20 years earlier, returned to the company to become its interim chief executive officer. At that time Apple was in the midst of a crisis. Its share of the computer market had plummeted from a peak of 14 percent in 1993 to below 3 percent four years later. ‘‘The company was in a death spiral,’’ its chief financial officer, Fred Anderson, told Newsweek in 1998. Jobs set out to address the problems. He believed that Apple’s difficulties stemmed from the company’s incoherent agenda, which consisted of efforts to move various products without a clearly defined purpose or method. Jobs attempted to redefine the company’s strategy by concentrating on Apple’s key markets: design and publishing, education, and consumers who purchased personal computers for use in the home. He also cut Apple’s product line from 14 to 4.

Jobs took charge of Apple’s image-making process as well. When he arrived back at the company, Apple was running more than 25 different advertising campaigns. The company’s domestic and international sales offices advertised independently from, and were often not coordinated with, the campaigns conducted from Apple’s headquarters in California. Apple’s advertising agency during this period, BBDO, had opted to focus its advertisements on specific Apple products and the technological features of Apple computers. These efforts did nothing to allay consumers’ fears that Apple’s demise was imminent. ‘‘The talk of Apple going under was the worst thing for the company,’’ said Jessica Schulman, the TBWA\Chiat\Day art director for the ‘‘Think Different’’ campaign. ‘‘People won’t buy computer equipment that they think won’t be around in the next year.’’ Jobs replaced BBDO with TBWA\Chiat\Day and began to work with his friend Clow, the agency’s creative director, on new advertising strategies. The two had collaborated in the past to forge an identity for Apple’s Macintosh brand in the renowned ‘‘1984’’ commercial. In an effort to bring order to Apple’s marketing chaos, the new campaign was to be a unified, worldwide effort overseen by TBWA\Chiat\Day’s international and domestic offices.

Target Audience of Campaign

The ‘‘Think Different’’ ads reached out to what Apple termed its ‘‘installed base,’’ those consumers who had purchased Apple computer equipment in the past. Apple consistently performed well in three core markets: designers and desktop publishers, educators and students, and home users. It was these groups that were most likely to have bought Apple products and who were keeping the company afloat during its downturn. But with the publicized record of Apple’s financial troubles, many of them were not purchasing new Apple systems for fear that the company would soon fold, leaving them with obsolete machines. ‘‘Our number one priority was to make people realize that we were still here and still fighting for this brand,’’ said Rhona Hamilton, a marketing representative for Apple.

In order to appeal to these users, the campaign stressed the creative roots of the Apple brand. The people who were selected to appear in the ‘‘Think Different’’ campaign were bold thinkers, men and women who were not merely great in a certain field but who were also innovative and independent and who had changed the worlds in which they moved. By aligning itself with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Bob Dylan, and Albert Einstein, Apple clearly strove to deliver a message about itself and its products. ‘‘After talking to a lot of consumers and Macintosh enthusiasts, our strategic direction was to stop acting like a computer company and start acting like a company dedicated to creative thinking,’’ said Schulman. The ‘‘Think Different’’ ads stressed that Apple was an innovative company that, with its creative users, could change the world. With these images and themes, Apple hoped to appeal to its core markets, people who as artists, illustrators, designers, and students valued their own creativity and who viewed themselves as being somewhat outside the mainstream. As Brandweek noted, ‘‘‘Think Different’ [was] clear that it [was] not targeting its message to everyone.’’


As a manufacturer of both computers and operating systems, Apple was involved in two highly contested markets. Apple’s line of computer hardware competed directly with that of other makers of personal computers, most notably Dell, Compaq, and IBM. Apple and Dell also vied for market share in the growing business of built-to-order computers. Apple, through its online Apple Store, and Dell, the fastest-growing major computer maker, both offered consumers the opportunity to customize their systems at the point of purchase. Apple’s operating system, Mac OS, faced its stiffest challenge from Microsoft’s windows. The competition between Apple and Microsoft had been particularly difficult for Apple because Microsoft had succeeded in making its Windows system a near standard for business and commercial users. Particularly in light of Apple’s financial difficulties and loss of consumer confidence before Jobs returned to the company, Apple was losing a great deal of ground to the Microsoft system. Apple’s share of the personal computing market, which stood at 14 percent in 1993, had plummeted to 2.8 percent by 1997.

Apple was not alone in its advertising campaign. By 1998 its major competitors had all launched branding campaigns that were attempting to create favorable images of the companies rather than focus on individual products. IBM spent more than $140 million on its massive ‘‘Solutions for a Small Planet’’ branding campaign. In 1998 Dell set out on a $70 million ‘‘Be Direct’’ worldwide image campaign, which marked the first time the company had sought to target consumers outside of trade publications. Dell’s TV spot, which featured a mouse blowing up a maze, rather than running through it, to obtain a chunk of cheese, aired during evening network news programs and on national cable channels such as CNN, FN, and CNBC; the print version appeared in mainstream magazines such as Newsweek, Time, and Forbes. Compaq spent an estimated $300 million annually on global campaigns and announced plans to double its U.S. consumer ad budget in 1998 to approximately $50 million. Microsoft had taken its ‘‘Where Do You Want to Go Today’’ campaign onto prime-time television and into national magazines. Intel, the manufacturer of the Pentium processors employed in most PCs, had also continued its ongoing and widely popular ‘‘Bunny People’’ campaign, which centered on disco-dancing Intel technicians.

Marketing Strategy

Upon his return Jobs recognized immediately that Apple’s public image needed to be reinvigorated if the company were to survive. Although Apple had long been viewed as making superior computing equipment, the company was in danger of going the way of Sony’s illfated Betamax videotape system, for few people were willing to invest in a product from a company that was believed to be on the verge of extinction. To counter this perception, Jobs brought in TBWA\Chiat\Day and worked closely with Clow and others in the agency to develop the campaign that became ‘‘Think Different.’’ The creators of the campaign realized that, because the company’s image was so tarnished, Apple could not revitalize its brand by relying on ads touting its products. Instead the campaign sought to celebrate the creative genius of its subjects and to assert that Apple, too, had a unique role to play on the world stage by making the tools that allowed creative people to achieve extraordinary feats. ‘‘‘Think Different’ celebrates the soul of the Apple brand–that creative people with passion can change the world for the better,’’ Jobs told the Wall Street Journal Europe in April 1998. Apple wanted to kick off the campaign in dramatic fashion and decided that the first advertisement should run on television during the September 28, 1997, network television premiere of A Toy Story on ABC. Although difficulties in obtaining the rights to use and publish the photographs of the subjects of the campaign nearly caused Apple to miss its target, the 60-second spot aired as planned. The commercial consisted of the blackand-white images of the 12 visionary thinkers and the reading of a manifesto written in part by Jobs and read by actor Dreyfuss. ‘‘Here’s to the crazy ones,’’ began the voice-over. ‘‘The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in 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. 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.’’ A shorter version was also produced. To reinforce the message of the television commercials, Apple conducted a brief second phase of the campaign and ran print ads in major newspapers, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, that consisted of the text of the manifesto and some of the images from the television campaign. After this initial burst Apple continued to run the television spots during such highly rated television programs as ER, Prime Time Live, Frasier, and Ally McBeal and soon followed with its first wave of magazine ads. Forgoing computer trade and industry publications, Apple instead placed its ads on the back covers of magazines such as BusinessWeek, Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and the Atlantic Monthly and in advertising trade journals such as Advertising Age and Adweek. These ads, which incorporated new figures, such as choreographer Martha Graham and architect Frank Lloyd Wright into the campaign, consisted solely of a single black-and-white photograph of the subject. The only text was the phrase ‘‘Think Different,’’ the Apple logo, and the address of the company’s website. In hopes of piquing audience interest all the more, the ads did not identify the subject in any way.

By its final year ‘‘Think Different’’ had transitioned into a print and billboard campaign. For example, billboards placed on the tower of the Pine Street Inn in Boston featured black-and-white images of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The tagline ‘‘Think Different’’ and an image of Rosa Parks covered buses in New York City. Parks, an African-American, had become famous when she refused to sit at the back of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. The campaign ended in mid-2002, but it briefly resurfaced on October 24, 2005, when Parks, the woman dubbed the ‘‘Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement,’’ died. To pay homage to Parks, Apple placed her photo on its website’s home page with the text ‘‘Think Different’’ in the image’s upper-left corner.

Grammer Takes a Hit

The choice of the tagline ‘‘Think Different’’ rather than ‘‘Think Differently’’ was deliberate. Even though ‘‘Think Different’’ drew public flak for not being grammatically correct, Apple settled on the line because it ‘‘conveyed a total change in the whole body of what you think about,’’ said Jessica Schulman, art director at TBWA\Chiat\Day, the agency that developed the campaign. ‘‘Instead of thinking in your everyday way, ‘Think Different.’’’

Outcome of the Campaign

The ‘‘Think Different’’ campaign elicited an outpouring of opinions. Apple’s headquarters was inundated with letters, faxes, phone calls, and E-mails commenting on the campaign. Some questioned the cast of innovative thinkers included in the ads, others were perplexed by the message, and still others were delighted with Apple’s attempt to pay tribute to its heroes. People formed websites spontaneously, discussing who the individuals were, whether the phrase ‘‘Think Different’’ was grammatically correct, and why Apple’s ad campaign would focus on a group of people who for the most part had never touched a computer. Apple and TBWA\Chiat\Day considered the attention paid to the campaign to be a sign of its impact.

At first the advertising industry praised the ‘‘Think Different’’ campaign. The December 15, 1997, edition of USA Today listed Apple’s ‘‘bolder’’ ads as one of the year’s best campaigns. As reported in the same article, ad agency creative directors ranked the campaign as the second best of the year. On May 18, 1998, Advertising Age also voiced its approval: ‘‘The decision to celebrate the kind of independent thinking that has always typified Mac users seems now to make total sense.’’ In fact, the article stated, ‘‘the shots of heroes, geniuses, wildmen, and iconoclasts assembled here makes a strong emotional statement for Apple’s underdog role.’’ Not everyone loved ‘‘Think Different,’’ however. At first Apple had to contend with criticism for launching a ‘‘campaign of dead people.’’ Apple marketing representative Rhona Hamilton spoke of having to educate consumers about what the campaign was attempting to convey. CMP Techwire reported that the company was drawing bad press for undertaking an expensive marketing effort during a period of financial losses. A USA Today Ad Track survey revealed that consumers preferred Intel’s ‘‘Bunny People’’ spots, which were ranked as the most popular technology-industry commercial of 1997.

The campaign had a positive effect on Apple’s bottom line. In April 1998 Apple reported its second straight profitable quarter after nearly two years and $2 billion in losses. Apple attributed the increasing sales to the ‘‘Think Different’’ campaign. ‘‘It let people know that we’re still around and not going anywhere, so that they can feel good about buying the product,’’ said Hamilton. Apple’s market share rose to 4.1 percent. Unfortunately for Apple, the computer maker’s American market share hovered at about 5 percent for the campaign’s final four years. Advertising critics began discrediting ‘‘Think Different’’ for limiting the Apple brand to the small minority of ‘‘revolutionaries’’ that used computers. ‘‘For years, the Apple brand has been associated with artists, writers and designers,’’ Sandra Garcia wrote in the August 2, 2002, issue of Shoot, an ad-industry magazine. ‘‘The so-called ‘creative types’ who seemingly belonged to this secret society of Mac users while the rest of the working public toiled in a clunky PC world.’’ In 2002 Apple suffered with the majority of the technology industry and posted its first profit loss since 1997. In mid-2002 Apple officially replaced its ‘‘Think Different’’ campaign with one titled ‘‘Switchers.’’

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