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Jobs as iCEO

Enlisting Picasso

Here’s to the Crazy Ones

Lee Clow, the creative director at Chiat/Day who had done the great “1984” ad for the launch of the Macintosh, was driving in Los Angeles in early July 1997 when his car phone rang. It was Jobs. “Hi, Lee, this is Steve,” he said. “Guess what? Amelio just resigned. Can you come up here?”

Apple was going through a review to select a new agency, and Jobs was not impressed by what he had seen. So he wanted Clow and his firm, by then called TBWAChiatDay, to compete for the business. “We have to prove that Apple is still alive,” Jobs said, “and that it still stands for something special.”

Clow said that he didn’t pitch for accounts. “You know our work,” he said. But Jobs begged him. It would be hard to reject all the others that were making pitches, including BBDO and Arnold Worldwide, and bring back “an old crony,” as Jobs put it. Clow agreed to fly up to Cupertino with something they could show. Recounting the scene years later, Jobs started to cry.

This chokes me up, this really chokes me up. It was so clear that Lee loved Apple so much. Here was the best guy in advertising. And he hadn’t pitched in ten years. Yet here he was, and he was pitching his heart out, because he loved Apple as much as we did. He and his team had come up with this brilliant idea, “Think Different.” And it was ten times better than anything the other agencies showed. It choked me up, and it still makes me cry to think about it, both the fact that Lee cared so much and also how brilliant his “Think Different” idea was. Every once in a while, I find myself in the presence of purity—purity of spirit and love—and I always cry. It always just reaches in and grabs me. That was one of those moments. There was a purity about that I will never forget. I cried in my office as he was showing me the idea, and I still cry when I think about it.

Jobs and Clow agreed that Apple was one of the great brands of the world, probably in the top five based on emotional appeal, but they needed to remind folks what was distinctive about it. So they wanted a brand image campaign, not a set of advertisements featuring products. It was designed to celebrate not what the computers could do, but what creative people could do with the computers. “This wasn’t about processor speed or memory,” Jobs recalled. “It was about creativity.” It was directed not only at potential customers, but also at Apple’s own employees: “We at Apple had forgotten who we were. One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes are. That was the genesis of that campaign.”

Clow and his team tried a variety of approaches that praised the “crazy ones” who “think different.” They did one video with the Seal song “Crazy” (“We’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy”), but couldn’t get the rights to it. Then they tried versions using a recording of Robert Frost reading “The Road Not Taken” and of Robin Williams’s speeches from Dead Poets Society. Eventually they decided they needed to write their own text; their draft began, “Here’s to the crazy ones.”

Jobs was as demanding as ever. When Clow’s team flew up with a version of the text, he exploded at the young copywriter. “This is shit!” he yelled. “It’s advertising agency shit and I hate it.” It was the first time the young copywriter had met Jobs, and he stood there mute. He never went back. But those who could stand up to Jobs, including Clow and his teammates Ken Segall and Craig Tanimoto, were able to work with him to create a tone poem that he liked. In its original sixty-second version it read:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

Jobs, who could identify with each of those sentiments, wrote some of the lines himself, including “They push the human race forward.” By the time of the Boston Macworld in early August, they had produced a rough version. They agreed it was not ready, but Jobs used the concepts, and the “think different” phrase, in his keynote speech there. “There’s a germ of a brilliant idea there,” he said at the time. “Apple is about people who think outside the box, who want to use computers to help them change the world.”

They debated the grammatical issue: If “different” was supposed to modify the verb “think,” it should be an adverb, as in “think differently.” But Jobs insisted that he wanted “different” to be used as a noun, as in “think victory” or “think beauty.” Also, it echoed colloquial use, as in “think big.” Jobs later explained, “We discussed whether it was correct before we ran it. It’s grammatical, if you think about what we’re trying to say. It’s not think the same, it’s think different. Think a little different, think a lot different, think different. ‘Think differently’ wouldn’t hit the meaning for me.”

In order to evoke the spirit of Dead Poets Society, Clow and Jobs wanted to get Robin Williams to read the narration. His agent said that Williams didn’t do ads, so Jobs tried to call him directly. He got through to Williams’s wife, who would not let him talk to the actor because she knew how persuasive he could be. They also considered Maya Angelou and Tom Hanks. At a fund-raising dinner featuring Bill Clinton that fall, Jobs pulled the president aside and asked him to telephone Hanks to talk him into it, but the president pocket-vetoed the request. They ended up with Richard Dreyfuss, who was a dedicated Apple fan.

In addition to the television commercials, they created one of the most memorable print campaigns in history. Each ad featured a black-and-white portrait of an iconic historical figure with just the Apple logo and the words “Think Different” in the corner. Making it particularly engaging was that the faces were not captioned. Some of them—Einstein, Gandhi, Lennon, Dylan, Picasso, Edison, Chaplin, King—were easy to identify. But others caused people to pause, puzzle, and maybe ask a friend to put a name to the face: Martha Graham, Ansel Adams, Richard Feynman, Maria Callas, Frank Lloyd Wright, James Watson, Amelia Earhart.

Most were Jobs’s personal heroes. They tended to be creative people who had taken risks, defied failure, and bet their career on doing things in a different way. A photography buff, he became involved in making sure they had the perfect iconic portraits. “This is not the right picture of Gandhi,” he erupted to Clow at one point. Clow explained that the famous Margaret Bourke-White photograph of Gandhi at the spinning wheel was owned by Time-Life Pictures and was not available for commercial use. So Jobs called Norman Pearlstine, the editor in chief of Time Inc., and badgered him into making an exception. He called Eunice Shriver to convince her family to release a picture that he loved, of her brother Bobby Kennedy touring Appalachia, and he talked to Jim Henson’s children personally to get the right shot of the late Muppeteer.

He likewise called Yoko Ono for a picture of her late husband, John Lennon. She sent him one, but it was not Jobs’s favorite. “Before it ran, I was in New York, and I went to this small Japanese restaurant that I love, and let her know I would be there,” he recalled. When he arrived, she came over to his table. “This is a better one,” she said, handing him an envelope. “I thought I would see you, so I had this with me.” It was the classic photo of her and John in bed together, holding flowers, and it was the one that Apple ended up using. “I can see why John fell in love with her,” Jobs recalled.

The narration by Richard Dreyfuss worked well, but Lee Clow had another idea. What if Jobs did the voice-over himself? “You really believe this,” Clow told him. “You should do it.” So Jobs sat in a studio, did a few takes, and soon produced a voice track that everyone liked. The idea was that, if they used it, they would not tell people who was speaking the words, just as they didn’t caption the iconic pictures. Eventually people would figure out it was Jobs. “This will be really powerful to have it in your voice,” Clow argued. “It will be a way to reclaim the brand.”

Jobs couldn’t decide whether to use the version with his voice or to stick with Dreyfuss. Finally, the night came when they had to ship the ad; it was due to air, appropriately enough, on the television premiere of Toy Story. As was often the case, Jobs did not like to be forced to make a decision. He told Clow to ship both versions; this would give him until the morning to decide. When morning came, Jobs called and told them to use the Dreyfuss version. “If we use my voice, when people find out they will say it’s about me,” he told Clow. “It’s not. It’s about Apple.”

Ever since he left the apple commune, Jobs had defined himself, and by extension Apple, as a child of the counterculture. In ads such as “Think Different” and “1984,” he positioned the Apple brand so that it reaffirmed his own rebel streak, even after he became a billionaire, and it allowed other baby boomers and their kids to do the same. “From when I first met him as a young guy, he’s had the greatest intuition of the impact he wants his brand to have on people,” said Clow.

Very few other companies or corporate leaders—perhaps none—could have gotten away with the brilliant audacity of associating their brand with Gandhi, Einstein, Picasso, and the Dalai Lama. Jobs was able to encourage people to define themselves as anticorporate, creative, innovative rebels simply by the computer they used. “Steve created the only lifestyle brand in the tech industry,” Larry Ellison said. “There are cars people are proud to have—Porsche, Ferrari, Prius—because what I drive says something about me. People feel the same way about an Apple product.”

Starting with the “Think Different” campaign, and continuing through the rest of his years at Apple, Jobs held a freewheeling three-hour meeting every Wednesday afternoon with his top agency, marketing, and communications people to kick around messaging strategy. “There’s not a CEO on the planet who deals with marketing the way Steve does,” said Clow. “Every Wednesday he approves each new commercial, print ad, and billboard.” At the end of the meeting, he would often take Clow and his two agency colleagues, Duncan Milner and James Vincent, to Apple’s closely guarded design studio to see what products were in the works. “He gets very passionate and emotional when he shows us what’s in development,” said Vincent. By sharing with his marketing gurus his passion for the products as they were being created, he was able to ensure that almost every ad they produced was infused with his emotion.


As he was finishing work on the “Think Different” ad, Jobs did some different thinking of his own. He decided that he would officially take over running the company, at least on a temporary basis. He had been the de facto leader since Amelio’s ouster ten weeks earlier, but only as an advisor. Fred Anderson had the titular role of interim CEO. On September 16, 1997, Jobs announced that he would take over that title, which inevitably got abbreviated as iCEO. His commitment was tentative: He took no salary and signed no contract. But he was not tentative in his actions. He was in charge, and he did not rule by consensus.

That week he gathered his top managers and staff in the Apple auditorium for a rally, followed by a picnic featuring beer and vegan food, to celebrate his new role and the company’s new ads. He was wearing shorts, walking around the campus barefoot, and had a stubble of beard. “I’ve been back about ten weeks, working really hard,” he said, looking tired but deeply determined. “What we’re trying to do is not highfalutin. We’re trying to get back to the basics of great products, great marketing, and great distribution. Apple has drifted away from doing the basics really well.”

For a few more weeks Jobs and the board kept looking for a permanent CEO. Various names surfaced—George M. C. Fisher of Kodak, Sam Palmisano at IBM, Ed Zander at Sun Microsystems—but most of the candidates were understandably reluctant to consider becoming CEO if Jobs was going to remain an active board member. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Zander declined to be considered because he “didn’t want Steve looking over his shoulder, second-guessing him on every decision.” At one point Jobs and Ellison pulled a prank on a clueless computer consultant who was campaigning for the job; they sent him an email saying that he had been selected, which caused both amusement and embarrassment when stories appeared in the papers that they were just ............
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