How Apple really came to 'Think Different': 5 takeaways

In Forbes, Rob Siltanen, one of men who worked on the Apple's landmark 1997 ad campaign, details how it all came to be

Steve Jobs, speaking at a publishing conference in 1997, stands in front of a giant poster of Pablo Picasso, featured in Apple's landmark "Think Different" campaign.
(Image credit: TIM KAO/San Francisco Chronicle/Corbis)

Apple's 1997 "Think Different" ad campaign is credited with helping turn around the then-struggling computer company. The print ads featured black and white photos of various revolutionary thinkers, including MLK, Thomas Edison, and Gandhi. The iconic TV spot began with the now-famous voiceover "Here's to the Crazy Ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers." (Watch it below.) Just how the legendary campaign came to be has been a matter of debate, but Rob Siltanen, who was creative director at the ad agency that pitched the idea to Steve Jobs, sets the record straight in a column at Forbes. Here, five takeaways from his story:

1. It wasn't Steve Jobs' idea

In his Steve Jobs biography, Walter Isaacson "incorrectly suggests Jobs created and wrote much of the 'To the crazy ones' launch commercial," says Siltanen. "To me, this is a case of revisionist history." While Jobs was heavily involved in Apple's advertising, he didn't initially like the commercial that played "a pivotal role in helping Apple achieve one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in business history."

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2. Jobs didn't initially want a TV campaign

In 1997, when Jobs met with various ad agencies about coming up with a campaign to help what was then a "hemorrhaging" company, he initially just asked for "some print ads in the computer magazines until we get things figured out." Siltanen disagreed, telling Jobs, "Nobody stands around the water cooler talking about print ads. You need to do something bigger and bolder."

3. Jobs was hesitant to go with the idea

When TBWA/Chiat/Day, the agency where Siltanen then worked, presented the concept, which included a mood video set to Seal's "Crazy" to help convey the idea in the print ads, Jobs was impressed but hesitant. "This is really great … but I can't do this," Siltanen recalls him saying. "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." He quickly changed his mind, saying, "Screw it. It's the right thing. It's great."

4. The commercial's copy was inspired by Dead Poet's Society

After Jobs approved the idea, the agency was charged with cutting the mood video from several minutes into a 60-second spot. The original version, never intended to be a commercial, relied heavily on the song lyrics, but they were lost in the editing. Inspired by Dead Poet's Society, Siltanen wrote a short manifesto to convey the same message — "To the crazy ones. Here's to the misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The people who see the world differently" — imagining Robin Williams speaking the words. Jobs initially called the copy "crap" and "advertising agency shit," Siltanen recalls. Another writer, Ken Segall, tweaked it, and eventually Jobs came around. But Robin Williams wanted no part in advertising, so it was Richard Dreyfuss who spoke the lines.

5. The campaign had a real impact

"When the 'Think Different' campaign launched, Apple immediately felt the boost despite having no significant new products," says Siltanen. Within twelve months, Apple's stock price tripled. A year after the campaign launched, Apple released the jellybean-colored iMacs, which were heralded for their design and sold like gangbusters. "Without the 'Think Different' campaign preceding and supporting them, it's likely [they] would have been viewed by the press and general public as just more 'toys' from Apple."

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