Steve Jobs had only recently returned to Apple, and had been interim CEO for only a few weeks, when he stood in a small auditorium to reveal a  groundbreaking marketing campaign.

Looking back at the video now from September 1997, it might be a nostalgic moment if you’re old enough to remember the campaign. But there’s something bigger to pull from Jobs’s presentation: one of the clearest explanations of effective marketing that you’ll ever find. 

The video is at the end of this article. Nearly 25 years later, it’s both inspiring and instructive.

‘Think Different’

We’re talking about the “Think Different” campaign that Apple launched in September 1997. 

A few days before it would debut on television, Jobs shared it with an internal audience at Apple. His performance was recorded, and the video had been saved, rediscovered, and widely viewed on YouTube. 

The campaign involved simple, black-and-white film of 17 icons of the 20th century, referred to as “the crazy ones”–starting with Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King Jr., Maria Callas, John Lennon, and others–along with a simple piano score and poetic narration by actor Richard Dreyfus. 

The ad was pure brand marketing. It doesn’t mention a single computer or other product. Except for a small Apple logo and slogan at the end, it never even mentions the company. 

Core values

Jobs explains the strategy of the ads, and how great campaigns work in general, especially in two short passages during his presentation:

Apple at its core — its core value — is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.

What we’re going to do in our first brand marketing campaign in several years is to get back to that core value. A lot of things have changed. … The products, the distribution strategy, manufacturing are totally different. … But values and core values, those things shouldn’t change.

Let’s focus on that last sentence — nine words.

I wrote recently about one of the key things that smart business leaders should do, if they haven’t already, even in the middle of a global pandemic: create a written mission statement and a set of core values.

What Jobs is talking about here is one of the reasons why.

Sometimes, customers form attachments to products and services. But often, they form attachments to brands, and what they represent.

If you don’t know what your core values really are, your customers, and others on the outside, will fill in the gaps. They’ll decide for you. 

But if you know who you are as a company, and you’re proud of it, then you have a chance to connect with customers–and help them develop affinity for you on a much deeper level.

But did it work?

Jobs didn’t write the ads himself, of course, although by all accounts he was very involved. Instead, they’re the work of advertising agency TBWA/Chiat/Day, which had also been responsible for the iconic “1984” Apple ad 13 years earlier.

Rob Siltanen, who was creative director and managing partner at the time, wrote about the experience in 2011, not long after Jobs passed away. Siltanen says he wrote the first draft of the text of the ads, but he and Jobs clashed. 

Even so, he gave Jobs credit — “an incredible amount of credit … for ultimately pulling the trigger” on the campaign.

And, he says it worked, big time”

When the “Think Different” campaign launched, Apple immediately felt the boost despite having no significant new products.  Within 12 months, Apple’s stock price tripled. A year after the “Think Different” launch, Apple introduced their multicolored iMacs.

The computers represented revolutionary design, and they became some of the best-selling computers in history. But without the “Think Different” campaign preceding and supporting them, it’s likely the jellybean-colored and gumdrop-shaped machines would have been viewed by the press and general public as just more “toys” from Apple.

Here’s how Jobs unveiled it all:

(A quick postscript: The “Think Different” campaign debuted on ABC during the first-ever TV showing of the movie Toy Story, which was produced by Pixar. Of course, Jobs was also CEO of Pixar, and an executive producer of Toy Story.)

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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