Rash Report: Jobs left his mark in marketing, too

  • Article by: JOHN RASH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 6, 2011 - 6:59 PM
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Photo from 1984 Apple commercial

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Steve Jobs changed nearly everything he touched, from touch-screen iPods, iPads and iPhones to touching "Toy Story" films from Pixar, his computer animation studio.

His ingenious devices also changed the culture and business models in the music, movie, mobile phone and computer industries. Key to his success was that Jobs, and Apple's longstanding ad agency Chiat Day (now called TBWA\Chiat\Day), also changed marketing.

It's hard to remember now, but the Super Bowl wasn't always the showcase for commercials that it is today. Apple changed that, too, with its "1984" ad.

Considered by many Madison Avenue mavens to be not only the best Super Bowl spot but the best commercial ever, it ran only once, in January 1984.

Directed by Ridley Scott, who at the time was best known for his breakthrough "Blade Runner," it was different from any Super Bowl ad before or since.

Unlike unremarkable marketing featuring Budweiser's Clydesdales, "1984" was grey, grim and -- unthinkable now -- made a political statement that gave viewers credit for their intelligence.

Downcast citizens are shown shuffling silently into an industrial institution. The only voice heard is from a stern Orwellian Big Brother figure.

"Today we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives," he says to the soulless masses.

Then, breaking through security (and breaking through the monotone gray palette), a woman running in red jogging shorts and a white tank top throws a sledgehammer through the screen. Out bursts a wave of white light, revealing the only hopeful emotion the beaten-down people express in the 60-second spot.

The ad ends by declaring that "On Jan. 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'"

Just like George Orwell's dystopian classic, the commercial captured Cold War anxiety that still ran rampant in America. But more important, the product performed, which elevated "1984" beyond a clever campaign into a timeless insight.

Indeed, today's repressive regimes, like those in the Middle East and North Africa, are facing social upheaval in part because of social networks that are often powered by Apple's iPhones and iPads.

Jobs' work at marketing Apple products stemmed from his understanding that design and retailing are organic parts of the marketing process -- "the intersection of art and technology," he once said.

He walked the talk: iProducts have been concurrently space-age and instantly intuitive. And Apple stores are as clean and streamlined as the devices they sell.

The brilliant branding didn't just include Apple, but Jobs as well. Bursting on the scene as a brash young man in a Big Blue IBM world, he suitably wore business attire.

But eventually he donned the nonconformist uniform of jeans, tennis shoes and a black mock turtleneck, looking as sleek and consistent as his dazzling devices were when he unveiled them with a showman's touch.

Apple influenced our times, and yet was influenced by them as well. Some previous products -- Macintosh, Newton -- had names that were derivative of the company.

But starting with the iMac in 1998, Apple mostly named new products with a personal pronoun, reflecting cultural (and computer) individualism.

But even if we were listening to our own music, we could do it together. Tapping into the marriage of the music and computer cultures, iPod and iTunes used U2 and other hot pop artists in its dancing "Silhouettes" campaign to show that the culture can concurrently have a shared, yet still individual, experience.

This individualism was the mark of marketing that may well be as remembered as favorably as the "1984" ad: Apple's "Think Different" campaign.

Lamented by linguists, but largely loved by nearly everyone else, the TV spots and magazine and poster-style ads showed a recognizable figure known for iconoclastic innovation.

In some, the copy read: "Here's to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. 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."

Among the many icons identified were artists (Alfred Hitchcock, Pablo Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, Miles Davis, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Jim Henson, the Beatles), social reformers (Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Jackie Robinson), industrialists (Ted Turner, Richard Branson) and general geniuses, such as Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein.

Perhaps a fitting tribute would be to bring back the campaign with Jobs as one of those iconic figures.

Based on the impact his innovations had on us, he could arguably span all the categories.

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John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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