Apple’s remarkable rise, coupled with Steve Job’s recent death, has prompted quite a few people to reflect on the historical impact of the “Think different” ad campaign and the “To the crazy ones” commercial that launched it. There have been a lot of different accounts of how the work was created, who conceived it, and how it was presented to Jobs, so I thought now was a good time to share my perspective and give you an inside look.
How do I know what took place? I was there—right in the thick of it. I was Creative Director and managing partner at TBWA/Chiat/Day working on the Apple pitch alongside CEO and Chief Creative Officer, Lee Clow. Together, Lee and I headed up and actively participated in all of the work done for the pitch. I was also in every agency meeting with Jobs throughout the process—pre-pitch, pitch, and post-pitch.
In writing this story, I’ve drawn from hand-written, dated creative journals I’ve diligently chronicled throughout my agency career as well as files I saved from the 1997 Apple time period—being a packrat often proves useful. In these journals I found countless pages of notes and concepts I jotted down during our process of trying to bring Apple back to prominence. I also found the original “To the crazy ones” television script I presented to Jobs and a plethora of rough drafts.
While I’ve seen a few inaccurate articles and comments floating around the internet about how the legendary “Think different” campaign was conceived, what prompted me to share this inside-account was Walter Isaacson’s recent, best-selling biography on Steve Jobs. In his book, Isaacson incorrectly suggests Jobs created and wrote much of the “To the crazy ones” launch commercial. To me, this is a case of revisionist history.
Steve was highly involved with the advertising and every facet of Apple’s business. But he was far from the mastermind behind the renowned launch spot. In fact, he was blatantly harsh on the commercial that would eventually play a pivotal role in helping Apple achieve one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in business history. As you’ll learn later in my account, the soul of the original “Crazy ones” script I presented to Jobs, as well as the original beginning and original ending of the celebrated script, all ultimately stayed in place—even though Jobs initially called the script “shit.” I’ve also read a few less-than-correct accounts on how the “Think different” campaign was originally conceived. While several people played prominent parts in making it happen, the famous “Think different” line and the brilliant concept of putting the line together with black and white photographs of time-honored visionaries was invented by an exceptional creative person, and dear friend, by the name of Craig Tanimoto—a TBWA/Chiat/Day Art Director at the time.
I have read many wonderful things about Steve Jobs and the warmth and love that he gave his wife, children and sister. His Stanford commencement address is one of the most touching and inspiring speeches I have ever heard. Steve was an amazing visionary and comparisons of him to some of the world’s greatest achievers I believe to be totally deserved. But I have also read many critical statements about Steve and I must say I saw and experienced his tongue-lashings and ballistic temper first hand—directed to several others and directed squarely at me. It wasn’t pretty. While I greatly respected Steve for his remarkable accomplishments and extraordinary passion, I didn’t have much patience for his often abrasive and condescending personality. It is here, in my opinion, that Lee Clow deserves a great deal of credit. Lee is more than a creative genius. In working with Jobs he had the patience of a saint.
People ask me what Steve Jobs was like and I often describe him as a mix between Michelangelo, Mies van der Rohe and Henry Ford—with some John McEnroe and Machiavelli thrown in. Steve was fiercely driven and there’s no way Apple could have possibly gone from laughing stock to “the stock you dream of owning” so swiftly without a relentless, self-confident genius at the helm. But Steve Jobs didn’t turn Apple around by himself. Many talented and dedicated people played key roles and that turnaround first began with an advertising campaign called “Think different.”
Here’s the story…
The First Meeting With Steve
It was early July, 1997 when Lee Clow joyfully strolled into my office and said we would be flying to San Jose and driving to Cupertino to talk with Steve Jobs about Apple’s advertising account. Steve had recently come back to Apple as their interim CEO and he was looking to make some changes. On the flight, Lee told me he firmly believed Jobs would “hand us” the account, which at the time was housed at BBDO—the same agency that won the business from Chiat over ten years earlier. Lee felt Chiat/Day never deserved to lose the Apple business and this hopefully would be Jobs’ way of making up for the agency getting screwed over in the past.
At the time, our agency was on a roll. We had been named “agency of the year” by the top trade magazines and we were winning a lot of new business including some major accounts without pitching at all. I was 33 years of age and I was Creative Director and managing partner at the agency where I headed up the Nissan and Infiniti accounts—the two largest accounts in the agency network. I had recently created a famous Nissan spot called “Toys” that was named “Commercial of the year” and our Nissan and Infiniti staff consisted of some the most talented creative people in the ad industry. All of us were stoked at the thought of working on Apple and proving our creative capabilities beyond the car business.
On the plane ride to Apple, Lee told me that if we were asked to formally pitch the business against other agencies, he’d respectfully decline. For years Clow and I would have lunch together and he would tell me how wrong it was that agencies had to spend their own big money in order to pitch accounts. Now it appeared we held all the cards and I fully agreed with Clow we shouldn’t pitch. Not only was the agency red hot at the time, Lee had already done the best work in advertising history for Apple in the past. We both believed anything less than a direct handoff would be a slap in the face.
When we arrived at Apple’s headquarters, a secretary showed us to a large conference room and said Steve would be joining us shortly. Lee hadn’t seen Steve in 10 years and I was expecting that Steve would give Clow a warm embrace and a “welcome home” type of greeting. That wasn’t exactly the case.
Jobs walked into the conference room wearing his trademark black mock turtleneck, shorts, and a pair of flip-flops. But while he looked casual, he was all business.
The hellos and introductions were very short and there was zero time spent reminiscing about the glory days when Lee and the old guard at Chiat helped Jobs create some of the most awe-inspiring advertising of all time. Jobs basically said, “Good to see you. Thanks for coming. Now let’s get down to business.” He then went on to say that Apple is “hemorrhaging” and the company was in worse shape than he had imagined. He said, “We have some decent product, but we need to get things figured out. I’m putting the advertising up for review and I’m meeting with a handful of agencies to see whom ‘gets it’. I’ve already been talking with a couple of agencies that seem pretty good and you’re invited to pitch the account if you’re interested.” At this point I’m thinking to myself—well, this isn’t going as planned.
Jobs went on to say that the process would be fast and he didn’t need to see fancy executions—just some initial concepts and thinking. He said “I’m thinking no TV ads, just some print ads in the computer magazines until we get things figured out.” Clow was remaining his cool, reserved self at this point, meanwhile I was finding Jobs to be far more bossy and arrogant than I imagined. I got the impression he felt we were just another company lucky to be in his presence. I also didn’t agree at all with his game plan. I chimed in and told him “half the world thinks Apple is going to die. A few print ads in the computer magazines aren’t going to do anything for you. You need to show the world that Apple is as strong as a lion. Nobody stands around the water cooler talking about print ads. You need to do something bigger and bolder. You need to do TV and other things that are going to give you true momentum.” I went on to say that any agency could talk the talk. You need to see actual creative executions to truly judge the power of an idea.
“Fine, show me the ideas and executions that you guys think are best” Jobs shot back. We weren’t getting off to a good start, but I didn’t mind playing the bad cop because I figured Lee was going to be putting the kibosh on things very shortly. “Well, that’s up to Lee,” I said. Lee had told me just hours earlier that we wouldn’t pitch, so I turned to Lee thinking he was going to tell Jobs “Thanks, but no thanks.” Instead, Lee calmly said, “Well, if you like some of the other agencies you’re talking with, why don’t you just go with one of them?” Jobs said he might. Lee then told jobs “we’ll think it over and call you tomorrow.”
On the cab ride to the San Jose airport, I asked Clow what was going on. “I thought you said we weren’t going to pitch?” Clow said, “I’ve changed my mind. If we win this thing we’ll have a great story to tell. I want to get it back.”
The Creative Process
Back at the agency I gathered the creative teams and briefed them on the assignment. Most of the teams worked directly for me on the Nissan business and a few others were junior art directors that served as Lee’s creative assistants. There was no time to wait for a long written out strategy or to put together a detailed creative brief. We needed to figure out how to get Apple back on track fast.
All of the creatives had used Apple computers for years. They were not only well aware of the brand—they lived it and loved it everyday. They really didn’t need a formal strategy. I requested that people start creating ideas immediately and we’d review work in a week. Meanwhile the account team, agency planners and our new business team began pulling as much information as possible on Apple’s strengths and weaknesses in the marketplace.
Apple had some brand zealots in various creative industries, and we thought maybe the best way to stop the bleeding was to do some testimonials with famous celebrities that we had heard were Apple backers. We found that people such as Steven Speilberg and Sting used Apples and so did several other prominent creative stars. Conversely, we saw a lot of articles talking about Apple negatively—many people in the business world were calling Apple computers “toys” and incapable of “real” computing. Meanwhile the press started suggesting that buying an Apple was a dumb purchase and they spoke freely of the fact that Apple had a miniscule and shrinking market share while also having a fraction of the software applications of classic PCs. Apple’s situation was outright ugly. But through ugly situations come beautiful opportunities.
The next week we gathered in a large conference room at the agency where everyone had their work tacked up on wallboards. The room was filled with photos, pencil sketches, rough ideas and tag lines. You know that scene in the movie “A Beautiful Mind” where the room is plastered with paper on every inch of wall space? Well, during a new business pitch or preparation for a big project, our conference rooms typically looked like that. This pitch was no exception. About four different creative teams had work represented and virtually all of it was mediocre. Through quantity doesn’t necessarily come quality.
But there was one campaign that jumped out at me. And it jumped out in a big way.
It was a billboard campaign that had simple black and white photographs of revolutionary people and events. One ad had a photo of Einstein. Another had a photo of Thomas Edison. Another had a photo of Ghandi. Another had the famous photo of flowers placed in gun barrels during the protest of the Viet Nam war. At the top of each image was the rainbow colored Apple logo and the words “Think Different.” Nothing else.
The creator of the work was a brilliant Art Director named Craig Tanimoto. Craig had worked with me for many years—mainly on the Nissan business—and he virtually always had a unique way of looking at things. When I started my own ad agency a few years later, Craig was one of the first creative people I hired.
Craig’s Apple campaign seemed big and fresh in a room that was filled with classic computer shots and stereotypical celebrity photos. I loved it. But at the same time, the work seemed needing of explanation.
I asked Craig what it all meant and he said, “IBM has a campaign out that says ‘Think IBM’ (It was a campaign for their Thinkpad) and I feel Apple is very different from IBM so I felt ‘Think different’ was interesting. I then thought it would be cool to attach those words to some of the world’s most different thinking people.”
The rainbow colored logo served as stark contrast to the black and white photography and, to me, it seemed to make the “Think different” statement all the more bold—the exact kind of attention getting and thought provoking advertising that Apple desperately needed. Clow loved the idea as well and we directed everyone in the room to start blowing it out in TV and other media.
At this point, the entire team started working on television concepts and several art directors started finding other famous black and white images that would be turned into magazine ads. Meanwhile, Clow had Jennifer Golub, one of the agencies most talented and artistic broadcast producers, begin looking for video footage of legendary people. Typically in a new business pitch or when we were trying to construct a new campaign from scratch, we would build what we called “rip-o-matics” or what are often referred to as a “mood” or “concept” videos. These videos are usually only intended to be seen by the client and they serve as a set-up for the campaign. When creating television commercials you need to keep within the network constraints of costly thirty or sixty-second time slots, but with a mood video time isn’t an issue and the primary objective is to create a feeling or tone of voice.
Clow came up with the inspired idea of using Seal’s haunting song “Crazy” with the key lyric “We’re never going to survive unless we get a little crazy” as the driving force to the video. I worked with Clow on a title card explaining the concept that throughout history true visionaries have gone against the grain and thought differently and Apple makes tools for these types of people.
After the video played a series of title cards appeared…
There are people who see the world differently.
They see things in new ways.
They invent, create, imagine.
We make tools for these kinds of people.
Because while some might see them as the crazy ones,
we see genius.
(FADE TO APPLE LOGO AND TAGLINE)
The video, cut by Dan Bootzin—Chiat’s gifted in-house editor, was strong and moving. It was also about two minutes long. We relentlessly tried to cut the video down to a sixty-second spot, thinking Jobs would want to turn it into a television commercial if we won the pitch, but the lyrics wouldn’t work in the cut down format. While I believed the video was great as a mood piece, I always felt I could write something with more teeth and staying power. I thought if Jobs liked the direction we were heading than I would write a more impactful commercial later.
With the mood video finished, a great outdoor and print campaign in place, and a few storyboarded TV concepts drawn up, we had a day to do a pitch run-through at the agency. In a traditional pitch scenario three or four of us would have roles throughout the presentation, but because Clow had a past relationship with Jobs and because we had only one campaign to share, I suggested Clow do the entire pitch presentation—from the thinking behind the campaign all the way through to the creative executions. Lee was always an amazing presenter and he was so passionate about Apple that I felt the rest of us would only interrupt his flow. Lee and the rest of the team agreed.
A small handful of us flew to San Jose and we were directed to a very compact conference room at Apple where we set up the presentation. Jobs walked in with a few other people from Apple and on that day he seemed like he was in very good spirits. Clow began the pitch and the more he started talking, the more enthusiastic and passionate he became. He took Jobs through our thinking and walked him through the outdoor, print and TV spots. He closed with the mood video and finished by saying he thought this was the right campaign and we were the right agency.
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.
After The Win
After we had officially won the business, Steve (as predicted) said he wanted to run the Seal video as a commercial. He had become mesmerized with the video and he wanted to cut it down to a sixty. We told him we had unsuccessfully tried this before the pitch, but we would try some more. We tried again and again, but it still wouldn’t work. There were also some issues with getting the rights from Seal, but that basically didn’t matter. The lyrics provided a powerful element to the video and when they were cut up or entirely eliminated; the piece lost its power. Lee and I flew back to Apple to go over general business and we told Steve the mood piece was never intended to be a spot and it wouldn’t cut down. He wasn’t very happy about it. I told him I would write a manifesto that would be even better. I was always moved by the movie Dead Poets Society starring Robin Williams and particular pieces of the movie had made a major impact on me. The emotion and the context of the movie very much related to what I wanted to capture for Apple. Below are some key passages from Dead Poets that resonated with me and ultimately served as inspiration for the Apple script…
“We must constantly look at things in a different way. Just when you think you know something, you must look at it in a different way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try. Dare to strike out and find new ground.”
“Despite what anyone might tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Poetry, beauty, love, romance. These are what we stay alive for. The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
I quoted a few lines from Dead Poets and asked Steve if he’d seen the movie and he said, “Of course I have. Robin Williams is a personal friend of mine.” I told Steve I would write something in a similar tone of voice and we’d come back in a week.
I went back to the agency and worked non-stop day and night. I filled my journal with countless hand written scripts. I wrote everything with the mindset it would be spoken by Robin Williams. I had two sections that I loved. The opening, which I had written to feel like a titled poem…
“To the crazy ones. Here’s to the misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The people who see the world differently.”
And the closing:
“The people who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world are the ones who actually do.”
I felt the opening was powerful because I designed it to sync up with the images of the geniuses and have a certain shock value. I thought about the brilliant people throughout history and the struggles they went through. Many lived tortured existences and it was coming clear to me that they shared a common thread. Like Apple, they all had amazing vision, but also like Apple, all of them at one point or another were given unflattering labels. Martin Luther King was seen as a troublemaker before he was universally seen as a saint, the rebellious Ted Turner was laughed out of town when he first tried to sell the concept of a 24 hour news channel and, it was said that before Einstein was celebrated as the world’s greatest thinker he was thought to be just a guy with crazy ideas. Of course in 1997, Apple was being called a “toy” and only for “creative types” and it was getting chastised for not having the same operating system as everyone else. But I felt this copy would speak to the fans and get people who weren’t on our side to re-evaluate their thinking and realize that being different is a good thing. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “To be genius is to be misunderstood” and I always believed that was the general concept behind the “Think different” campaign.
I believed the end line of the script was wonderfully succinct and beautifully poetic. It was my favorite part of the copy. I struggled a bit with the middle and wrote endless versions because that is where the piece needs to turn the corner and speak about the relationship or commonality that these geniuses share with Apple while not being too hard sell. Eventually I had a few versions that I felt worked nicely. I shared my scripts with Lee and he thought they were good. He made a couple tweaks and we put my voice on a sixty second rough cut. We shared it with quite a few people around the office and several people said it gave them goose bumps.
Lee and I flew to Cupertino to play the spot in person to Jobs. Only the three of us were in the room. We played the spot once and when it finished Jobs said, “It sucks! I hate it! It’s advertising agency shit! I thought you were going to write something like Dead Poets Society! This is crap!”
Clow said something like, “Well, I take it you don’t want to see it again.” And Steve continued to go on a rant about how we should get the writers from Dead Poets Society or some “real writers” to write something.
I was taken aback by his tirade. I had poured my heart and soul into the piece and I had played what I believed was a key role in the entire architecture of the campaign and he was going off on me. I told him “Steve, you may not like the piece, but it doesn’t suck.” Jobs continued to say he thought it was crap and Clow, trying to put the fire out, said we’ll go back and try some other things.
The original script we presented to Jobs (as taken from my files) is below. As you can see, it’s very close to the final script that would eventually go to air.
To the crazy ones.
Here’s to the 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.
FADE TO APPLE LOGO AND LINE “Think different.”
When Clow and I left the building, I told Clow I had given the script everything I had and I thought it was best he get someone else to deal with Jobs. I told him Apple had taken up a ton of my time and I needed to spend more time on my duties as Creative Director on the agency’s two largest accounts, Nissan and Infiniti. Clow agreed.
When we returned to the agency, I went back to putting my energies into our car clients. Meanwhile Lee put the Apple TV assignment out to various copywriters within the agency and brought in a few noted freelancers, too. One of the writers given the assignment was Ken Segall. Ken was a highly gifted writer/Creative Director that was hired shortly after we won the Apple business. Ken had worked with Jobs in the past and Clow convinced Ken to leave his job at an agency in New York (Y&R) and work for us in Los Angeles on the Apple business. Upon Ken’s arrival in L.A. he was quickly given the task to work on the TV script along with all the other writers. One day Ken came to my office and said, “Jobs has seen a ton of scripts and he’s gone full circle…we’re moving ahead with your ‘Crazy ones’ script. I made some tweaks. I hope you don’t mind.”
Ken had added some beautiful additions to the TV script and he created a long copy version of the script that was turned into a magazine and newspaper ad. His additional touches were terrific and he truly did make the spot better than ever, but the heart and soul of the spot from the original version stayed fully in tact.
While I had always hoped that Robin Williams would be the voice over, he refused to do any form of advertising so they ended up going with Richard Dreyfuss. I always felt Tom Hanks or Dreyfuss would be the next best choices. Clow always wanted Jobs to do the read and I’ve heard the version Jobs laid down, but I never thought it was the right thing. It seemed too self-serving to me. I think the selection of Dreyfuss was an excellent one. I later used Robin Williams to voice a campaign for the Olympics—he obliged because it was pro-bono—and he was truly amazing. But Dreyfuss gave the “Crazy ones” spot a slow, gritty and unique read that made each word seem all the more important. In my mind, Dreyfuss ended up being the perfect choice and he would have been next to impossible to top.
After the outdoor campaign went up and the spot aired, it wasn’t long before Apple became the talk of the town. Some of the talk wasn’t good. A writer for the Los Angeles Times ripped on the campaign saying something along the lines of “It’s perfect that Apple is doing a campaign with a bunch of dead guys because the brand will be dead soon, too.” But the great thing was—good or bad—people were talking about a brand that had fallen off their radar. And they were talking a lot. Apple clearly had a pulse and while they weren’t strong as a lion, they certainly gave the impression they were. This got the Apple faithful fired up, it got the fence sitters back on board, and it got an audience that once thought of Apple as semi-cool, but semi-stupid to suddenly think about the brand in a whole new way. Apple was off to the races and about to make history.
While Steve Jobs didn’t create the advertising concepts, he does deserve an incredible amount of credit. He was fully responsible for ultimately pulling the trigger on the right ad campaign from the right agency and he used his significant influence to secure talent and rally people like no one I’ve ever seen before. Without Steve Jobs there’s not a shot in hell that a campaign as monstrously big as this one gets even close to flying off the ground. But while Steve accomplished more amazing things than perhaps any businessperson before him, a lot of people helped him get there. And without some very dedicated advertising people, Apple’s incredible rise from flame to fame probably never would have happened.
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 multi-colored 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.
Even with my painful run-ins with Steve, things ended up working out pretty well. The “Think different” campaign would win many awards and the “Crazy ones” would go on to win several commercial-of-the-year honors. The creative credits had many of us listed—and Clow made sure to put Steve Jobs on the list, too. I always thought that was cool because the campaign truly required the contribution and dedication of many. Craig Tanimoto and I would go on to do a lot of enjoyable work for other brands and we remain the closest of friends. Ken Segall would go on to create the wonderful iMac launch campaign and do tons of outstanding work for Apple before eventually returning to New York.
Several other brilliant creative people made sizeable contributions as well—people such as Yvonne Smith, Margaret Midget Keen, Jessica Shulman, Jennifer Golub and Dan Bootzin dedicated their talent and enormous amounts of time to the Apple cause. So did Chiat’s remarkable Media Director, Monica Karro. And outstanding creative people such as Duncan Milner, Eric Grunbaum and Susan Alinsangan have kept the flame burning with one fantastic campaign after the next—all thanks to the enduring talent, guidance, and patience of Lee Clow. Despite the sad death of Steve Jobs, his legacy and impact on the world will be remembered forever. I can’t help but to think that his life may have been cut short, but his memory will outlast us all. Apple seems to have done pretty well, too. In 1997 they were in deep trouble and this year they were ranked the most valuable company in the world. Crazy? You better believe it.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Rob Siltanen, CEO and Chief Creative Officer at Siltanen & Partners – an independent, full-service advertising and media agency in Los Angeles, California.
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