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Selling the Apple Lifestyle: What Makes the Ads Work


Powerful, simple images have encouraged consumers to Think Different. What makes us listen?

It's a typical Apple ad: arresting in its minimalism, culturally resonating, and stunning enough to stop people in their tracks on probably the most crowded stretch of New York City. There, north of Canal Street, is a large white billboard with all four Beatles, dressed dashingly, and the slogan "Now on iTunes" beside the eponymous Apple logo. In its stark design and simple messaging the billboard tells you that Apple (AAPL) isn't all that different from the Beatles. They occupy the same pop cultural Olympus.

Advertising is inseparable from Apple's product line. Sure, the iPod and iTunes revolutionized the music industry, the iPhone changed the mobile-phone business, and the iPad might do the same for entertainment, media, and publishing. Even the Mac has
found its way in from the PC wilderness. But Apple's advertising made all this possible, in that it created an undying loyalty among its consumers, made them feel like buying in got them into a hip global family.

Apple's advertising doesn't tell you much about that product but instead the lifestyle (vaguely anti-establishment) that you're purchasing. For instance, its 2003 "Silhouettes" campaign immortalized the iPod, with freeze-frame shots of people dancing with their earbuds in. The ads did not show the product up close.

Computer companies once advertised how fast and how much power their products had – the "speed and feeds" strategy – but Apple and Steve Jobs gladly rebuffed that. Theirs was a larger, cultural mission. In 2009, Apple spent $501 million on worldwide
advertising. Its products are well made, but they don't only speak for themselves.

In 2010, AdAge named Apple its first "Marketer of the Decade" and Adweek named its campaigns "Get a Mac" and "Silhouettes" the best of the decade in their respective categories.

Omnicom Group's TBWA (OMC), and its chairman and global director Lee Clow, is the agency behind Apple's culturally-reverberating advertising, alongside Jobs of course. More than 300 people reportedly work on Apple's portfolio. Their relationship goes back to 1984, which was followed by a hiatus from 1986 to 1997 after Jobs' forced departure from Apple, and with Jobs' return in 1997 he immediately rehired TBWA/Chiat/Day. (See Apple's Worst Commercial, made in 1995, here.)

TBWA/Chiat/Day orchestrated the 1984 Super Bowl ad that put Apple on the cultural radar; that ad is seen as the best to ever grace that sacrosanct broadcast. Recently, AdAge described it as "an eyebrow-raising 1984 riff on George Orwell that showed a female
warrior shattering a TV screen broadcasting a 'Big Brother' type keeping viewers under tight control." The ad introduced the Macintosh computer to large audiences.

Jobs' return to Apple and his reunion with Clow and TBWA in 1997 came with specific instructions to the ad agency, according to Adweek: Buy us some time. The iMac was 12 months away, but Jobs knew it could save the company he'd founded. Their
campaign – "Think Different" – spoke to Jobs' visionary and innovative spirit, and it asked consumers to come along on its unconventional path.

In 2002, the "Switch" ads introduced the white background that would become the standard for Apple, and would soon be ripped off by countless other companies- but never with the same panache.

In 2006, TBWA created Media Arts Lab to specifically serve Apple "as a new type of ad agency that creates culture, not just commercials," according to AdAge.

That year, they launched the "Get a Mac" campaign. The series of 60-plus live-action ads personified the choice between a PC and Mac: John Hodgman as the PC, a square well-meaning geek, with all kinds of operating problems (a fill-in for Microsoft and Bill Gates), and Justin Long as the Mac, young and hip (and a fill-in for Jobs).

The ads were genius and they forever cemented Apple's place in pop culture. Two years ago consumers told Interbrand that Apple was the thing they couldn't live without and the one they found most inspiring. That sentiment makes sense when you consider that buying a particular lifestyle, as Apple offers in its advertising, is priceless.

Click here to return to "The Mythology of Apple" and our complete list of Apple stories.

Why is Apple so important to us? What's next for the iconic brand? Click here to continue reading from our series on the mythology of Apple. You'll also find a link to our video, "Is Apple a Religion?"

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