The 10 best ads in Apple's 40-year history

Apple's "Silhouette''campaign for the iPod.
Apple's "Silhouette''campaign for the iPod.

Apple has come a long way since it was founded 40 years ago this week. Take a look back at the ads that have defined the brand.

The very first ad Apple ran in 1976 looked more like a flyer than an ad. It promoted for the Apple 1 computer and is a mass of text that is a far cry from the brand's current trademark use of white space. 

Here are contenders for the 10 best Apple ads. Have your say below. 

1) ‘Homemaker’ (1981)

This spot featuring talk show host Dick Cavett plays off the sexist stereotypes that were once prevalent in advertising.

Talk show host Dick Cavett, a mainstay of Apple’s early advertising, acts the misogynist as he asks how the "homemaker" uses the Apple II for household budgeting.

She slaps Cavett down by telling him she is "working in gold futures". The ad finishes with a surreal but wonderful payoff line where she makes an aside that "I also own a small steel mill."

2) ‘1984’ (1984)

Apple’s ‘1984’ ad has passed into advertising folklore and is often cited as the best spot ever made. Shockingly the advert was almost never released because the Apple board hated it when they first saw it, according to Chiat\Day account manager Fred Goldberg in his book Insanity of Advertising: Memoirs of an Ad Man.

The Orwellian spot was directed by Ridley Scott and starred unknown British actress Anya Major, while "Big Brother" was played by actor and voice artist David Graham, who provided Dalek voices in early "Doctor Who" episodes.

When the board saw a rough edit, they thought it would be a disaster. The upstart Apple was getting trounced by rival IBM at the time, and they thought it was unwise to be "slapping the industry leader in the face."

Even though Steve Jobs loved it and offered to pay to air it himself the Apple board hated it so much they ordered Chiat\Day to sell off the 90 seconds of ad time the company had bought to air it in the Super Bowl. 

Chiat\Day co-founder Jay Chiat ordered everyone at the agency deliberately to move slowly and as a result it only managed to offload 30 seconds, which meant the 60-second version still aired during the Super Bowl. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The ad led to more than $150 million in sales in the first 100 days of the Mac's debut, smashing Apple’s own estimates, and the ad is also credited with introducing the idea of the Super Bowl ad as entertainment in its own right. 

3) ‘Color’ (1990)

This ad is beautiful in its simplicity, which gives greater cut-through to the message that Apple has launched its first affordable color Macintosh. 

The Macintosh LC, which stood for ‘low-cost colour’, proved very popular in the education and home computing markets.  Previous colour Macs had been expensive computers with large profit margins. Compared to earlier Macs the LC model cut corners and features to keep the price down.

4) ‘Mission Impossible’

The first "Mission: Impossible" movie featured product placement for Apple’s Power Book and the tech firm took advantage of this with an ad featuring scenes of Tom Cruise using the device.

Creative ends with the witty voiceover line, "After you have seen the movie, you may want to pick up the book" and an ‘Expect the Impossible’ tagline. Apple resurrected the "Mission: Impossible" tie-up for the fourth movie in the franchise "Ghost Protocol."

Cruise and co were shown using MacBooks, iPads and iPhones for tasks ranging from lock picking to facial recognition. 

5) ‘Think Different' (1997)

The Think Different campaign has come to embody Apple’s principles and came at the company’s nadir. Steve Jobs had returned to the company but was faced with only 90 90 days of money left and no breakthrough products on the horizon.

Chiat\Day was given the assignment of coming up with a big idea that could turn around Apple’s fortunes. Many have claimed credit for the uber-successful Think Different campaign, but it appears the man who deserves most the plaudits was a junior art director named Craig Tanimoto.

The idea struck him as he was playing around with Dr. Seuss imagery and doodling Star-bellied Sneetches and wondering how some are unique and others are social outcasts. In a cartoon dialog box he scrawled "Think Different" next to the doodle, and thus the campaign was born.

The voiceover for the TV ad was read by Richard Dreyfuss after Steve Jobs ruled out it doing it himself, explaining to TBWA\Chiat\Day creative director Lee Clow that "if people think this is about me and not about Apple, then we'll have blown everything."

6) ‘Un-PC’ (1998)

Microsoft was the subject of Jobs’ ire before Google became his bête noire, and the manifestation of this dislike can be seen in the ‘Un-PC’ ads and subsequent ‘Get a Mac’ campaign. 

The "Un-PC" hits out at competitors for being "perpetually complicated." The stylish and colorful Mac was in sharp contrast to the competing gray Windows-based PCs.

Jobs famously lashed out at Microsoft for having "absolutely no taste."

He added: "And I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way, in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas, and they don’t bring much culture into their products. 

"I am saddened, not by Microsoft’s success, I have no problem with their success. They’ve earned their success, for the most part. I have a problem with the fact that they just make really third-rate products."

7) ‘Silhouette ‘ (2003)

Apple’s iPod took a few years to become the stratospheric success it would later become, and the original ad in 2001 was a rather forgettable and uncool affair. However, the care-free dancing in the earlier ad was replicated in the runaway success of the long-running "Silhouette" campaign.

The "Are You Gonna Be My Girl' track by Australian band Jet that featured in one of the earliest ads perhaps best exemplifies the energy and fun of the campaign. 

8) ‘Get a Mac' (2006-9)

The ‘Get a Mac’ campaign ran over a number of years and was a sustained attack on Windows-based PCs. 

It featured John Hodgman as a PC and Justin Long as a Mac in spots that attempted to show the difference between a typical PC and Mac user. Creative featured the repetition of the line, "I’m a Mac … And I’m a PC" and maintained a consistent feel to it by always being shot on a white background.

The man who introduced himself as a Mac was dressed in casual clothes, compared to the stereotypical PC user in a suit and tie. Apple attempted to recreate the campaign in the UK with comedy duo Mitchell and Webb, but it never quite emulated the success of the US campaign. 

9) "There’s an app for that" (2009)

Apple revolutionized the world by leading the mobile charge with its massively popular iPhone smartphone. Its influence was reinforced by the hugely memorable ‘Tthere’s an App for Tha' campaign.

The phrase ‘there’s an app for that’ became part of the lexicon and was so popular that Apple even filed a trademark application for the ubiquitous catchphrase. The focus on apps became a key differentiator for Apple and helped it effectively kill off competition from Nokia and BlackBerry in the fierce consumer smartphone world. 

10) ‘What is iPad?’ (2010)

Steve Jobs hated the iPad launch ad that featured a man in faded jeans reclining in a chair and using the tablet. He argued it looked like an ad for Pottery Barn

Jobs reportedly called TBWA\Media Arts Lab boss James Vincent to tell him the ad "sucked."

"The iPad is revolutioniszing the world, and we need something big," Jobs said. "You’ve given me small shit."

Eventually Jobs decided the iPad advertising should be a manifesto for the iPad, and the result was the "What is iPad?" campaign. The TV ad strongly resembles Apple’s "Who is Newton?" spot from 1993, which advertised a rare Apple failure, the Newton personal digital assistant device.

A look back at Apple's 40 years...

There is no doubt Apple's great advertising has contributed to its huge success. It has been one hell of a ride for the company. Fittingly Apple has created a 40-second to mark 40 unforgettable years. 


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