Under the Influence

The Marketing Genius of Steve Jobs - Part One

Get this episode from  or listen to this episode as streaming audio. Subscribe to the podcast free to have each new episode delivered to your computer every week. After 2 weeks, past episodes of Under the Influence will become available for purchase on iTunes. Source: Google Images This week's episode is Part One of a special Two-Part series about...
Get this episode from Under The Influence:The Marketing Genius of Steve Jobs - Pt 1 (Season 1, Episode 6) - EP - CBC Radio or listen to this episode as streaming audio.

Subscribe to the podcast free to have each new episode delivered to your computer every week. After 2 weeks, past episodes of Under the Influence will become available for purchase on iTunes.

Steve-Jobs-iphone.jpg Source: Google Images

This week's episode is Part One of a special Two-Part series about the late Steve Jobs.

When you look at his vast technical accomplishments, it's easy to forget he was a great marketer. As a matter of fact, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said that marketing was Jobs' greatest skill. In Part One, we look at his boldness as a marketer, how and where it first showed itself in his early 20s, his offer to pay for the Super Bowl ad time when the Apple board hated the famous "1984" Mac launch TV ad, his vindication when "1984" was cited as maybe the best TV ad of all time, his eventual ouster from Apple only one year later, and his return, 12 years later, in 1997. It was then that he commissioned the audacious "Think Different" ad campaign while, unbeknownst to most, Apple was just weeks away from bankruptcy. It was a huge gamble, but it secured the future of Apple.

That success launches Part Two of our series, as we will look at his many marketing strategies from 1997 to his death in 2011.

In many ways, Polaroid inventor Edwin Land was a lot like Steve Jobs.

edwin land.jpg Source: Google Images

He was domineering, he drove his employees hard and rarely listened to other people's opinions. He was known to wear the same clothes every day. He was obsessed by design, and his products were beautiful, sleek and iconic. He, too, would build a multi-billion dollar invention factory that would change the world, and like Jobs, he would eventually be ousted from the company he founded.

And above all, like Steve Jobs, when you stack up Land's accomplishments, it is so easy to overlook his influence... as a marketer.

For all these reasons and more, Edwin Land was a hero to Steve Jobs.

In just 56 short years on this planet, Steve Jobs managed to revolutionize six industries:

Personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, computing and digital publishing.

As his biographer Walter Isaacson notes, he even re-imagined a seventh industry - retailing. Just take one look at Apple's 5th Avenue store in New York:

Apple Store.jpg Source: Google Images

For my money, Steve Jobs was the best marketer of our generation.

It all started on April Fools Day, 1976, when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple Computers in the Jobs family garage. Below is the original Apple logo:

original-newton-apple-logo.gif Source: Google Images

Their incorporation papers stated the company was worth $5,309.00. Four years later, it would be valued at $1.79 billion.

When they launched the Apple 1 in 1976, then the highly successful Apple ll in 1977, the era of the personal computer was born. I've always thought the below photo summed up the Wozniak/Jobs dynamic - Woz looking inward at the technology, Jobs looking outward at the consumer.

Apple 1 computer.jpg Source: Google Images

In 1981, when IBM entered the personal computer market, a plucky Steve Jobs ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal. It would be the first glimpse of the bold marketer Jobs would become.

Welcome IBM. seriously ad.jpg Source: Google Images

It was a savvy ad, because it created the impression it was a two-horse race between Apple and IBM. Essentially eliminating all the other computer companies like Commodore and Tandy.

When Jobs asked his advertising agency, Chiat/Day, to come up with a commercial to launch the Macintosh, he wanted a TV commercial that would revolutionize advertising the way the Mac was about to revolutionize the computing world.

It was a tall order.

But the mighty Chiat/Day answered the call, and came back with a commercial that positioned Apple as the computer of the individual, and would call out IBM as the machine of the corporate overlords. The ad borrowed the theme and title from the George Orwell book: 1984:

Source: YouTube

When the Apple board saw a preview of 1984, they hated it.

But here's where Jobs unwillingness to compromise showed itself, even in his 20s. When the board demanded that Chiat/Day ditch the commercial and sell the Super Bowl ad time, Jobs objected, and offered to pay the $1.6 million dollars out of his own pocket.

The Apple board finally relented, and the commercial ran in the third quarter of Super Bowl 18.

Here is a rare video of Steve Jobs previewing the commercial to an audience of shareholders just before its Super Bowl launch:

Source: YouTube

Jobs was vindicated once this commercial ran, because 1984 has been consistently voted as the best commercial of all time.

It showed the advertising industry that a TV ad could have production values on the scale of a motion picture. It demonstrated that a commercial could be news. While over 77 million people saw it on the Super Bowl, all three major networks and 50 local stations did stories about it later that evening, where it's estimated that an additional 43 million people saw it. The press gave it a viral life unprecedented in the pre-YouTube era. 1984 also single-handedly ushered in the age of Super Bowl "event commercials" that continues to this day.

That is why Steve Jobs pressed so hard to make sure 1984 aired - because it would establish a platform that would resonate for over 30 years.

But not long after that triumph, Jobs was fired from Apple in May of 1985.

He wouldn't return for another 12 years.

When Apple fired Jobs , they fired ad agency Chiat/Day, too. When that happened, Steve Jobs took out a full-page newspaper ad the next day:

Congratulations Chiat seriously ad.jpg Source: Google Images

It praised the agency on seven years of consistently outstanding work. The ad also gave a hint at what was to come. It said: "I'm expecting some new insanely great advertising from you soon. Because I can guarantee you: there is life after Apple."

In 1988, Jobs started another computer company called NEXT. It was to build computers for the educational market, but while NEXT never did take off - it did have one major claim to fame.

next logo.jpg Source: Google Images

Tim Berners-Lee, below, used a NEXT computer to invent a little thing called the World Wide Web.

Tim berners-lee.jpg Source: Telegraph UK

During that time, Jobs also bought another company. It was the LucasFilm Computer Division, and was owned by George Lucas, who was going through a nasty divorce and needed to free up some cash. The reason Jobs bought the company was because it owned a piece of proprietary equipment called the Pixar Image Computer.

The company also had a director named John Lasseter, and he wanted to try something that had never been done before - he wanted to produce the first animated movie created entirely on computers.

Lasseter.jpg Source: Esquire Magazine

But before the newly re-named Pixar could begin bankrolling feature films, it needed a cushion of cash. So the company generated revenue by producing close to 80 animated commercials for a long list of companies like McDonalds, Life Savers and Listerine:

Source: YouTube

The experience of doing commercials helped Pixar develop production skills, and from that came their first feature length movie, Toy Story.

Source: YouTube

It would not only become the top grossing film of the year, but it would be hailed as one of the greatest and most revolutionary films in the history of animation.

At the core of the film was the notion that inanimate objects have a soul. A personality. An essence. When you look at the products Steve Jobs created, you realize that was a huge part of Apple's magic. Jobs wanted computers to be "friendly."

He demanded that the shape be taller and narrower than most computers, suggesting a head. The slight curve at the base looked like a chin, and Jobs narrowed the strip of plastic at the top of the Mac so it didn't have a Neanderthal forehead.

mac_hello.jpg Source: Google Images

When you turned it on, it didn't ask for a command, it simply said "hello" in small type on the screen.

All of these elements weren't just interesting design decisions, they were marketing decisions that influenced people who were wary of technology to buy an Apple product. Apple didn't just win over their minds, it won their hearts.

Back in 1997, Apple was on track to lose over $1 billion dollars, and desperately needed to find new software for its latest line of computers. So in a surprising decision, the company decided to buy NEXT for $400 million dollars. The innovative NEXT software gave Apple a much-needed edge, and that software would go on to become the basis for every Apple product that followed.

But Apple also got Steve Jobs in the deal.

It didn't take long for him to get his hands back on the steering wheel at Apple, and when he did, he realized the company was in dire need of two things:

One: A re-focussed product line.

Two: An advertising campaign to tell people the company still had a pulse.

The first thing he did was re-hire Chiat/Day. Jobs asked the ad agency to come up with a bold new campaign to let people know Apple was back. One week later, Chiat/Day returned with a campaign that featured dramatic black and white photographs of people like Einstein, Thomas Edison and John Lennon.

Each one a hero of Steve Jobs.

All that accompanied the photos was the rainbow-coloured Apple logo, and the words: "Think Different." Here's a smattering of the iconic posters:

Think Different campaign.jpg Source: Google Images

You have to put the decision to run the Think Different campaign into context. To suggest that Apple could be put next to geniuses like Lennon and Einstein and Edison in an advertising campaign - at that point in their corporate history - was outrageous.

Apple was in a death spiral. The industry knew it, the public knew it, and the press knew it.

"Think Different" was more than an ad campaign - it was a brazen promise. It was almost as if Jobs wanted to create such an overreaching promise that his company would be forced to fulfill it.

When it came time to choose an actor to do the voiceover for the Think Different TV commercial, they chose actor Richard Dreyfuss. But here's a version of the ad that never ran - one narrated by Steve Jobs himself:

Source: YouTube

The campaign got everybody's attention. As copywriter Rob Siltanen said, it got the Apple faithful stirred up, it got the fence-sitters back on board, and it got an audience that was lukewarm on Apple to think about the brand in a whole new way.

Now all Apple had to do was put out a product that proved they could "Think Different."

Deep in a dusty basement across from Apple's main building, a talented designer named Jonathan Ive was languishing. Jobs had wandered over there one day when no one was around, and spotted a teardrop-shaped computer prototype Ive had created that nobody had taken notice of.

Ive photo.jpg Source: EdibleApple.com

As Fast Company magazine said of that moment, he saw in Ive's teardrop design what the previous Apple managers did not:

The future.

The pairing of Jobs and Jonathan Ive was to be the start of what Fortune Magazine would call, "The Decade of Steve."

Beyond his capacity to envision products, was Steve Jobs' astounding ability to market them.

Steve-Jobs-with-iPhone.jpg Source: Google Images

As Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said, "Marketing was his greatest strength."

Next week, we look at Apple's roaring comeback. We track Steve Jobs' amazing run of revolutionary products and the marketing behind them - from 1997 to his death in 2011.

Grab a cup of coffee, and join us for Part Two this Saturday at 11:30am (or at the same time on Monday morning).


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.