The Greatest Marketer of the Age

Steve Jobs demanded that his company build great products—and great advertising campaigns

Headshot of Tim Nudd

Steve Jobs made computers and music players and telephones and tablets. But mostly what he sold were two things—beauty and truth. As Apple’s core brand values, they were inseparable. His products looked better, and, he firmly believed, they were better. By being more beautiful, inside and out, they would improve your life. By being better than rival products, they would improve the world and move the culture forward. In this sense, good taste wasn’t a luxury, Jobs felt. It was a moral choice, particularly for the marketers who would shape technology’s future. If you sold an inferior product, you were a liar (if you were successful at it, a tyrant). If you bought it, you were a sucker.
Jobs’ merging of aesthetics and ethics, and his combative obsession with good and evil, would inform all of the company’s marketing on his watch. Aside from some notable failures, Apple products were often their own best marketing. But this was never enough. Jobs understood early on that he needed advertising to create an aura around them, and in 1980 he found a like-minded partner in Chiat/Day, the Los Angeles ad agency led by Jay Chiat and creative director Lee Clow. They would be partners through both of Jobs’ stints at Apple. Whether distilling the company’s ethos in grand, bold strokes like “1984” and “Think different,” reinventing the testimonial with “Switchers,” crafting the best-ever advertising comedy series with “Get a Mac,” or teasing the merchandise in spare, elegant product demos for the iPhone and iPad, their ad campaigns would become the envy of the industry.

The marketing didn’t always make a product a runaway success—Apple’s PC market share only recently broke the 10 percent mark, still well behind HP and Dell—but it relentlessly portrayed Apple as a force for good, a positioning that had a rebel’s edge when the company was the underdog. Jobs took a weak position in the market and made it seem like a badge of honor—a matter of exclusivity and, thus, coolness. Not everyone was equipped to see the future. You either got it, or you didn’t. You were with him, or against him. In the Ridley Scott-directed “1984,” the most famous commercial ever made—the ad to change all ads, particularly Super Bowl spots—you were either the heroine or the lobotomized slave. (Big Brother was IBM, though Apple would soon find an even greater villain in Microsoft.)
“1984” was game changing. But Jobs’ marketing insurrection wouldn’t hit full stride until his return in 1997 from his decade-long exile from Apple. He immediately reunited with Chiat/Day and unleashed “Think different,” a countercultural branding masterpiece that pushed a mind-set, not a product, and cast Apple as the endorser and enabler of misunderstood genius.

“Here’s to the crazy ones,” Richard Dreyfus intoned in the signature TV spot. “The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently . . . 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.” Images flickered by of Einstein and Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Picasso. Lurking off-screen, co-conspirator to these great minds, was Jobs. He was back, and he had another shot at changing the world himself.
It was a simple and shocking campaign and at the time seemed staggeringly arrogant. This wasn’t about how to use technology; it was about how to think. How to live. How to move the human race forward. And Jobs made the world’s great thinkers back him on it. All this from a company not that far removed from its Newton debacle of the mid-’90s and still years away from its iPod and iTunes boom.

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.