Apple is one of the world’s most widely known and loved brands. With their wide range of products and services, it’s hard for somebody to have no idea who Apple is or what they offer. But, they have had a long journey to achieve the level of ubiquity they hold today.
As a nearly life-long Apple fan, I have always admired their ability to create groundbreaking technology that changes the way humans live their lives. But, in order to tell their brand’s story, Apple has always taken a unique approach from other competitors. Apple intertwines its story with the people that use their products.
All of their campaigns have one thing in common that stays true to their core brand message: Apple products enrich lives to allow humans to create, rebel, and connect in new ways. Apple’s products expand what was once possible and allow people to break boundaries.
Even in their ads that primarily showcase technology, they are still humanity-driven, as they are always showcasing how their products tie into day-to-day life and what they make possible.
Apple’s ads are all something to marvel at, as some of the strongest examples of brand-building in recent history. I wish I could cover every single one, but I’m just going to hit some highlights here of their most well-known ads.
Though existential, cinematic ads like this are getting more and more common now, this ad came out all the way back in 1984. The simplicity of the message and the direct personification of Apple as a singular rebel against the monotonous Big Brother was unlike anything anybody had seen before in an ad. “1984” set the tone for Apple’s trajectory that lasts today, showing that though they are a technology company, they have a rebellious, human core.
Their next campaign to represent this premise, but in a dramatically different way is the “Think Different” campaign. Though the tagline isn’t technically grammatically correct, the premise is extremely effective. Out of all of their campaigns that focus on what makes them unique, none does it as direct as this one, by saying that they think different than competitors.
By showcasing innovators of the past, it automatically puts Apple in this league. No products are shown in these ads, but they are more focused on building Apple’s brand value. In the subtlest way, it is saying Apple, the company, was the modern-day superhero of the time, allowing people to change the world.
Another signature technique used in Apple’s ads throughout history is simple, clean photos of products. Even though these ads don’t leave a ton of room for creativity, as they are usually more focused on the utility, Apple’s brand still shines through in many of these.
Rather than being redundant by saying something basic like “now in colors,” Apple adds 3 simple words that are both clever and savage towards PCs at the time—and even their own machines of the past. Apple is breaking the rules of computers, and they are self-aware enough to capitalize on that.
Continuing to carry this thread of simplicity throughout its ads, Apple did their famous “Switchers” campaign in 2002. These ads, directed by the acclaimed Errol Morris, could not be much simpler—it’s just people telling the story of why they switched to a Mac.
Though the stories are simple, something deeper is happening here. These people are physical manifestations of the rebellious value Apple has always offered. Macs are not just computers—they are machines that allow users to create and expand what they previously thought possible. Rather than showing flashy features, they showcase stories of what their products make possible.
Not to go on a tangent, but this is the first ad campaign I remember really affecting me and is one of the reasons that I am in advertising today. I would draw my own versions of the silhouettes and get so excited whenever they were on TV or in a magazine. The bright colors, energy, great song choices, and—most of all—the stunning simplicity of it all, just blew my 3rd-grade mind and I’m still in love with this campaign.
The ads are bare-bones, but still, pack such a loaded message of joy and expression. The iPod was not about the earbuds, or the intuitive click wheel, or even the just the portability—it’s about connecting people to the music they love, wherever they go. The silhouettes campaign captures the range of personality represented by music, and how great it is to have it in the palm of your hand.
After the more abstract silhouettes campaign, Apple went back to their most simplistic with the ads it created from 2006-2009 for the “Get a Mac” campaign.
Get a Mac
PC is the physical embodiment of everything Apple is not—old, stale, stuck in his ways, and complicated. Mac, on the other hand, is cool, relaxed, creative, and rebellious. Though the premise is simple while still remaining clever, these ads verge on mocking PC rather than solely setting Apple apart.
Clearly, they were effective with consumers, as these ads ran for 4 years. The Apple vs. PC debate took many forms, some more clever and well-constructed than others. These ads demonstrated that in the same way Apple has broken away from its competitors, it encourages its customers to do the same with old expectations and norms. I see the goal of making Mac a rebel like a runner from “1984,” but the artistry feels slightly lost.
The greatest part about this ad is its mere simplicity. While the ad doesn’t focus as much on world-change and innovation directly, it hints at it by juxtaposing phones of the past to the (at the time) revolutionary 1st generation iPhone. By waiting to show the iPhone until the last few seconds, it reinforces the contrast. It’s not about the product, it’s how it allows people to connect to the world in new ways.
There’s An App for That
Product-focused ads like this are not as strong, as they tend to lose the relatable factor that ads focused around human stories have. Even though the ad is only focused on the phone itself, the voice-over is all about what it makes possible. When explaining something as simple as an app, the ad still has a strong, witty voice. More than anything, it makes it clear that the iPhone isn’t fancy for the sake of being flashy, its features are all there to make things possible.
Apple’s recent ads showcase diverse experiences and personalities, inserting new features of their devices into everyday life in fresh ways.
They have also adapted a new tagline recently: practically magic. Though Apple is a technology company through-and-through, this tagline gets at what they’ve always been about—being intuitive and making things happen.
I love this ad because it shows how freeing it is to no longer have wires. Rather than simply telling the viewer that, they demonstrate it in a beautiful, memorable way. Apple showcases a dancer and a unique song to create a brand new depiction of dance made possible by the AirPods. Imagine dancing like that without getting tangled up in those signature white wires! Who knows how those silhouette dancers pulled that one off!
The barbershop ad works so well because it displays portrait mode in such a fun way. No complex, step-by-step explanations needed—it just works. It’s…practically magic! While most technology companies would showcase this in a sleek, polished way, Apple shows their feature with a guy who owns his own mom-and-pop barbershop. Apple allows this artist to display his craft and showcase unique haircuts in a simple way to take him to the next level.
Apple’s most recent branded effort is their curated Instagram account. Building on the success of their Shot on iPhone campaign, the account features photos taken by iPhone photographers from across the world.
Though there are no direct calls to action or shiny product photos, they are not missed. Apple cares more about the impact their products have than the products themselves. The best story that the Apple brand can relate to is the human story and allowing people new levels of expression.
Apple’s strong brand has been with them since those first few days in that garage. Steve’s mentality lives on in all of their ads to this day, showing how Apple creates new possibilities. No matter what voice, tone, or medium Apple’s ads span—they all focus on making creative expression and boundary-breaking possible.
When I was 16, more than anything else, I wanted a Mac. All my friends were saving up for cars, and all that I wanted was a computer. We both wanted these products for the same reasons though—the places they can take us. The Mac that I got allowed me to learn and grow and explore and discover my passions.
That is the core of Apple’s brand—expanding the possibilities of technology to enhance creativity, rebellion, and expression.