How the iMac moniker and “Think Different” ad campaign came to be

Thu, Nov 5, 2009

Apple History, Featured, News

CultofMac has a fascinating interview up with TBWA executive Ken Segall, the man partially responsible for the Think Different campaign in addition to starting the whole “i” trend that took over Apple’s product line going all the way back to the original Bondi Blue iMac.

Segall describes that when Jobs returned to the helm of Apple in 1997, he wanted a new advertising campaign to help remind people what Apple was, and what its products embodied.  Segall quotes Jobs as saying, “What are we going to do to recapture the spirit of that company? We’ve got some great products coming but we need to communicate to the world what the company stands for.”

After brainstorming for a while, the team at TBWA realized that Apple was truly unlike every other company.  It carved its own path.  They did things their way.  They did things differently.  By god, they thought differently.  And hence, a slogan and an iconic and award winning ad-campaign was born.
On the process of actually coming up with the Think Different campaign, which Jobs reportedly latched onto from the very beginning, Segall writes:

With the concept in focus, it was now just a matter of developing the campaign that could best deliver it. We went down many roads – with and without a human presence, with and without mice (yes, mice). The breakthrough came when we stepped back and realized that the spark driving Apple existed long before Apple. In fact, it existed long before electricity. The ability to think creatively is one of the great catalysts of civilization. So the logic seemed natural: why not show what kind of company Apple is by celebrating the people Apple admires? Let’s acknowledge the most remarkable people – past and present – who “change things” and “push the human race forward.”

It’s been reported elsewhere that the first incarnations of the Think Different campaign featured black and white stills of “artists and creative professionals” using the Mac.  It was Jobs, however, who suggested that the ad campaign use noted historical and cultural figures instead.

The iMac was Apple’s first grandiose project under Jobs, and there was no doubt that the Bondi Blue all-in-one design was stunning.  But it needed a name to match, and with the Internet becoming an increasing part of our everyday lives at the time, the letter ‘i’ was chosen to symbolize that this was in fact an Internet computer.

Here’s how the process went down:

Jobs said he was betting the company on the machine and so it needed a great name. He suggested one at the meeting, Segall says, but it was terrible. It would “curdle your blood.” Segall declined to say what Jobs wanted to call it.

Jobs said the new computer was a Mac, so the name had to reference the Macintosh brand. The name had to make it clear the machine was designed for the internet. It also had to be applicable to several other upcoming products. And it had to be quick: the packaging needed to be ready in a week.

Segall says he came back with five names. Four were ringers, sacrificial lambs for the name he loved — iMac. “It referenced the Mac, and the “i” meant internet,” Segall says. “But it also meant individual, imaginative and all the other things it came to stand for.” It “i” prefix could also be applied to whatever other internet products Apple was working on.

Jobs rejected them all, including iMac.

“He didn’t like iMac when he saw it,” Segall says. “I personally liked it, so I went back again with three or four new names, but I said we still like ‘iMac.”

He said: ‘I don’t hate it this week, but I still don’t like it.’”

Segall didn’t hear any more about the name from Jobs personally, but friends told him that Jobs was silk-screening the name on prototypes of the new computer. He was testing it out to see if it looked good.

“He rejected it twice but then it just appeared on the machine,” Segall says, laughing. “He never formally accepted it.”

As for working with Jobs himself, Segall reiterates the well-known theme that Jobs abhors focus groups and never relies on market research, noting that in his entire time with the company, Apple has “never tested a thing in print or on TV.”

Regarding the abundant use of the ‘i’ prefix on Apple products, Segall notes that discussions have come up regarding whether or not Apple should abandon it, but by now it’s become such a part of Apple’s lineup that they’ve decided to stick with it to keep things consistent.

On working with Jobs, Segall says:

I’ve got some great emails from him.  I might publish them one day, but he’ll never talk to me ever again… He surrounds himself with creative people and gives them room to be creative.  He’s an interesting combo of taste, no compromise and charisma.

More times than not, he’s a charming, funny guy.  His charismatic, fun side is what makes everyone want to follow him around.

I was around for a few good flare-ups but they weren’t directed at me.  He mostly got mad if things hadn’t moved forward; if he didn’t see two weeks of work out of you. That’s when he got annoyed. Everything’s in constant motion at Apple. There’s always new products.

And that’s the magic of Apple.  Always looking forward, never backwards.  Always staying in motion, keeping people guessing, and delivering revolutionary products one right after the other.

Since his time at TBWA, Segall has gone on to work for Dell, where the differences between the two companies are especially stark.

Dell and Apple: It’s night and day.  It’s a transactional world Dell lives in. It’s all about numbers. Everything they say about Apple making products for themselves is true. Apple — it’s about changing the world. For everyone else, it’s about the money.


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