The real story behind Apple’s ‘Think Different’ campaign

“Apple’s remarkable rise, coupled with Steve Jobs’ recent death, has prompted quite a few people to reflect on the historical impact of the “Think Different” ad campaign and the “To the crazy ones” commercial that launched it,” Rob Siltanen writes for Forbes. “There have been a lot of different accounts of how the work was created, who conceived it, and how it was presented to Jobs, so I thought now was a good time to share my own perspective and give you an inside look.”

“I was the creative director and managing partner at TBWA/Chiat/Day working on the Apple pitch alongside CEO and Chief Creative Officer Lee Clow,” Siltanen writes. “Together, Lee and I headed up and actively participated in all of the work done for the pitch. I was also in every agency meeting with Jobs throughout the process — pre-pitch, pitch and post-pitch.”

Siltanen writes, “While I’ve seen a few inaccurate articles and comments floating around the Internet about how the legendary ‘Think Different’ campaign was conceived, what prompted me to share this inside account was Walter Isaacson’s recent, best-selling biography on Steve Jobs. In his book, Isaacson incorrectly suggests Jobs created and wrote much of the “To the crazy ones” launch commercial. To me, this is a case of revisionist history.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Note:

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Lynn Weiler” and “Brian Hee” for the heads up.]


  1. In his book, Isaacson incorrectly suggests Jobs created and wrote much of the “To the crazy ones” launch commercial. To me, this is a case of revisionist history.

    THIS is revisionist history, since Isaacson actually only said that Jobs personally wrote one sentence of this campaign: “They push the human race forward.”

    And, of course, the concept (not the phrasing) is Jobs’:

    Steve Jobs in interview for PBS’ ‘One More Thing’ documentary, 1994:

    “When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

    That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

    The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

    I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

    1. +100

      I believe there’s another instance where Steve had shared similar vision of iconoclasm before this ad. I also believe that all this squabble over the credit of this Ad is silly; this is a decent Ad, but merely narrating a credo or a slogan, however well is the the message and the narrator’s delivery prowess, doesn’t make a great ad; makes a great narration however. In other words, if you can’t find a better way to convey your message then the laziest approach often seems to be to just read it.

      The Ad is good not (just) because how effective it was/is (or by your goosebumps counts), but how Apple had lived up to the hype it had built with the Ad (and Steve’s return). Had Apple failed to deliver, the Ad would have seemed silly and pompous today.

      Real artists shipped, this Ad merely served as a notice (and reminder) served.

      1. Good point(s).
        I found it interesting the Ad agency felt they deserved the job (arrogance), wanted warm fuzzies and a golden handshake. Steve walked in, got right to business, told them the dire nature Apple was in, and set the rules. Later when they offered a concept that could potentially backfire at him personally, he balked openly, and then recanted openly, within seconds. Few could have done that. Most CEOs would be too arrogant to go back once they balked and would have gone with another ad agency, if only to save their own face. Instead, he begrudged the obvious greatness of it, perhaps only because he did not have the luxury of blowing them off.

        And it all would have been moot if Apple had not followed it up with great products and become one of the biggest turn-arounds ever.

        1. “Few could have done that.” For me too, that stood out. At certain times, the world seems balanced on a needle, the course of events suspended waiting for a Decision.

    2. While it is true that the 1994 Jobs quote predates the campaign, I think it speaks to why the concept “think different” resonated with Jobs, not that he created that concept. I do believe the article that Craig Tanimoto created the basis of this campaign from an entirely orthogonal path.

      1. Jobs speaks about how society expects you to be normal, pragmatic, down-to-earth person, and differentiates himself from this normality as he sees ways to change the world.

        Not sure how this is “orthogonal path” to Think Different campaign.

          1. Since Jobs knew these advertising people for decades and they obviously knew his philosophic views by that point very well, there is no feasible reason why would this TD campaign would appear out of nowhere and all of sudden “just so happen” to match Jobs’ ideals.

            So, basically, the only conclusion we could derive — besides the fantastic version about TD accidentally hitting the mark with Jobs — is that the campaign was not orthogonal, nor it was just created by some other people.

            This thing was Jobs all around, but, of course, no one can refuse the advertisers of credit that they did great job with rendering the concept (though even with that every word and phrase of TD canonic text was redone and edited by Jobs personally to finally please his taste).

  2. That video never ceases to inspire me. It isn’t an advertisement, it is a vision statement.

    I still believe that Apple should re-release the Think Different commercial after appending a final segment in remembrance of Steve Jobs. I suggest replacing the girl at the end with the classic B&W photo of SJ as the voice over says “…are the ones who do.” Then pop up an In Memoriam statement.

  3. Of course, it’s the blinking girl at the end which really makes this ad a masterpiece – instead of just great. That two second closing segment gives the whole ad its resonance.

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