The Simplicity of Apple's Advertising : 1997-Present

by Linus Edwards


The first part of this series can be found here.


The second coming of Steve Jobs to Apple in 1997 has been discussed many times, yet most don’t realize how complete a turn around of Apple he was able to accomplish. In addition to the big picture things he was able to do, such as saving Apple from bankruptcy and completely reinvigorating their product line, he also completely changed their advertising, bringing it back in line with Apple’s previous focus on simplicity.


When Jobs returned, his first order of business in advertising wasn’t to advertise the actual products. He realized the products at that point were not very good, although they had many new ones in the pipeline. Instead, he wanted to make a “mission statement” and show how Apple saw itself as more than just an average computer company. This was a similar idea to Jobs original “Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication” ad from the 70s, in which the product was not even shown.

This “Leave your mark.” ad has no reference to any specific computer or part of Apple’s OS, but simply is aspirational. It’s meant to evoke a feeling of endless possibility one has as a child. Apple was playing on your emotions, not trying to convince you logically to buy a computer.

These are a series of three ads that show sections of the Mac OS (some zoomed in) that are starting points. A create button, a new button, and a blank text file. The ads contained nothing but these pictures of the OS, a small inspirational sentence at the bottom, and the Apple logo. Again, while they showed the OS, they really weren’t about the OS itself, but more about invoking a feeling of passion and creativity.


Apple went full force into the “mission statement” type ads with the Think Different campaign. This was probably the highlight of Apple’s advertising throughout its history and is significant even in the history of advertising as a whole. The brilliance of the Think Different ads was again the unwavering simplicity. They consisted of simple black and white photographs of famous visionaries, overlaid with small text that said “Think Different,” and a small Apple logo.

If you didn’t know any better you wouldn’t even realize that Apple was a computer company, as there was no indication in the ads. Apple wasn’t selling products with the Think Different campaign, they were trying to establish a narrative in the public’s minds, that Apple was a revolutionary company that was going to “change the world.”


Once Jobs was able to refresh Apple’s product line into his own vision, he began to extend out beyond these initial ‘mission statement’ ads to show the actual products. However, he continued the minimalist aesthetic by copying the earlier advertising templates of the Lisa and original Mac. The ads all were a single beautiful photo of the computer, coupled with a short phrase, and a small Apple logo. Some continued the “Think Different” phrase, although soon that was replaced with more specific and playful lines.

These ads are a starkly different from what Apple had been producing for most of the 90s. Here you can see a comparison of Power Mac ads before and after Jobs return:

1994 Power Mac ad v. a 1999 Power Mac ad


Another big change Jobs instituted after returning to Apple was ditching the classic “rainbow” logo (which Jobs had originally instituted) in favor of a monochromatic version.

"Rainbow" Apple Logo (1976-1998) v. monochromatic version (1998-present)

While not specifically related to advertising, this change shows the move of Apple back to minimalism and simplicity. The logo was stripped of its extraneous colors and reduced to its essential form. Apple could then merely add any color they wanted to the logo in any given situation, including in their ads.


By 2001, Apple started to expand the company beyond simply computers by introducing the iPod. With this new product category, they were faced with how express their vision to the public. While other companies might have went with the bang you over the head approach in trying to get you to understand why you needed an mp3 player, Apple continued to play it simple.

The phrase “1,000 songs in your pocket,” was so basic, yet sold the absolute key feature of the iPod – the fact you could store a tremendous amount of music in a tiny digital device. That’s all the consumer needed to know to get their attention. A beautiful device that stores lots of music.

A few years later Apple began a long running ad campaign for the iPod in which they would simply show silhouettes of people listening to their iPods with bright colors in the background. This was a different take on the minimalist philosophy of Apple's ads, adding vibrant colors, but they became iconic. You could glance one of these ads on a billboard and even without the text saying iPod, know exactly what the ad was for.


With the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, Apple again was faced with how to express why this product was revolutionary in very stark and simple terms. This original iPhone ad does that in such a simple way that it seems obvious in hindsight. A finger reaching out and touching a glowing iPhone screen with the words “Touching is believing.” This harkens back to the original Mac ad showing a finger touching a mouse button. In both cases the ads cut to the core of why the products were revolutionary, the way you interacted with them. You touched the iPhone directly, and what better way to make a consumer realize that than literally showing a finger touching the device.


Apple stuck with minimalism with the introduction of the iPad, emphasizing the obvious feature they felt was important - the close, personal connection one has with an iPad. These ads all show people relaxing while using their iPads, using them to read books or watch movies. They wanted to show this was something different than what people usually associated with computers.


Apple has continued to stick with the simple advertising that Jobs brought back in 1997 up until the present day. This can be seen throughout their product line from new iPhones to iPads to Macs.


I think this retorspective of Apple's advertising can be a lesson for other companies looking to make an impact with their own advertising. Figure out what forms the core of your product and emphasize that. You don't have to throw as much information as possible at a potential customer, but instead cull down things to focus the core idea straight at them. Apple learned that this can be done with utter simplicity.


The Simplicity of Apple's Advertising : 1977-1997

by Linus Edwards


Apple has always been known for its beautiful minimalist design. Products like the original Macintosh, the iPod, and the iPhone all follow that guiding line of simplicity. Apple tends to winnow out any superfluous design accents that don't fit within the overall oneness of a product. This obsession with minimalist design also extends out to other areas of the company, including their advertising.

I've collected print ads from Apple, from their earliest days in the late 1970s to the present, which illuminate their continued focus on simplicity in design. In the first part of this two part series, I’ll look at Apple’s first twenty years of advertising.


Apple came right out of the gate with their vision of simplicity fully formed. This “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” ad was one of the first produced by the company and eschewed most staples of advertising. No long winded ad copy, no technical specs, not even a picture of the actual computer. It was simply a “mission statement” as to how Apple wanted the world to think about their philosophy. In some ways it's a bit pretentious, but I think Steve Jobs wanted to emphasize how Apple was different from its competitors. This ad made that abundantly clear.


Apple initially continued with extremely simple ads for the Apple II, this one being a great example. While obviously the kitchen and outfits are very dated, the composition of the ad is classic. A single photograph of a scene of people using a computer with the words "Introducing Apple II" overlaid. Apple wasn’t using gimmicks to sell the computer, but simply showed the product and the name.


Sampling of Apple ads from the late 70s and early 80s.

However, this wave of initial simplicity in Apple’s ads took a turn rather quickly in the late 70s and early 80s and entered a dark period for a number of years afterwards. Apple began to rely on the typical computer ads of the day, including ones that had actors dressed as historical figures and other very cluttered ads that looked ugly and lacked any semblance of minimalism. I can only imagine Jobs was focused on other things at the time for some of these to be approved.


By the early 80s Apple once again seemed to get its footing back in its advertising and came back to focusing on simplicity.

This is the original ad for the Apple Lisa, which was Apple’s first attempt at a GUI based computer. I would bet money Jobs personally approved this ad, because it seems to have his handwriting all over it. It consists of only a beautiful picture of the computer, and a simple phrase, "Apple invents the personal computer. Again." No specs, no long winded ad copy, not even an Apple logo. It's pure simplicity and yet is very powerful. Unfortunately, despite this beautiful ad, the Apple Lisa didn't make it in the marketplace.


Apple eventually moved beyond the Lisa and produced the landmark Macintosh computer, which used simplicity as its biggest revolutionary feature. That was reflected in the advertising for the original Mac.

Here's the cover of an advertising pamphlet for the original Macintosh. Again, it follows a similar pattern to the Apple Lisa ad - simple text on top of a photograph.

When you turn the page over, there's a two page spread showing the Mac in its full glory, stating simply, "Introducing Macintosh. For the rest of us." It does add a bit of clutter with its extra paragraphs of text and a photo of the Mac team, but overall it's firmly in the minimalist Apple ideal of advertising.


Apple later that year had an interesting experiment in buying out every ad slot in an issue of Newsweek magazine. While this could have led to a major overload of advertising, they thought out each page as part of a greater whole and made great use of minimalism in the ads.

You can see the first two pages combine to form a picture of the Mac. No title, no words, nothing besides a simple picture. While the later pages in the ad contain words and descriptions, having the section begin with a bare picture of your product is a bold move. Apple had the faith that they designed the Mac so well that it could look good without any adornment.

These two pages from the Newsweek ads are clearly the heart and soul of Apple advertising. Of course it has the simple picture with a sentence overlaid. But, the way it’s framed gets to why the Mac is revolutionary – because you can control it with a mouse. The simplicity is not just a gimmick, it emphasizes what’s truly important about the product. A person doesn’t get lost in ad copy looking at this, but sees a hand touching a mouse and knows that’s the focus of the Mac.

This is the back cover of the Newsweek, with one of my favorite Apple ads of all-time. Apple was so confident in how good the Mac looked, it didn’t mind using the back of it in a full page ad on the back cover of a major magazine. Nothing else, just the back of the Mac and an Apple logo. So simple, yet more effective at getting your attention than almost anything else they could have put on the back cover.


After the release of the Mac, Apple had more mixed results in their advertising although had sparks of beautiful simplicity. The ad campaign for the Apple IIGS was rather brilliant and used all the hallmarks of great Apple ads.

This might be Apple’s simplest ad ever for one of their products. It removes even pictures and is simply black text on a white background. It invokes the creativity of historical figures in a similar vein to their later “Think Different” campaign. The utter starkness of the ad actually makes it stand out more than a colorful ad full of pictures that would blend into the background noise of most advertising.

This “ear” ad for the IIGS consist of a simple picture, a short catchy sentence, and a small picture of the actual computer. It uses the simplicity of an ear to emphasize that the IIGS would have sound be one of the main features. The IIGS was Apple’s most advanced computer in terms of sound and music at the time. Instead of simply stating that through specs and long winded explanation, this ad conveys it in a simpler but more memorable way.


Sampling of Apple ads from the early to mid 90s.

By the early to mid 90s, Apple’s ads still contained kernels of the former emphasis on simplicity from earlier years, yet, they started to lose their way. Ads began to cram more and more information into them, and became more similar to the competition. There are no clear examples of a truly minimalist ad in this time period that was on par with some of the earlier examples. Apple lost its way both in terms of computers and advertising during the 90s.

However, by 1997, Steve Jobs made his famous return to Apple, rejuvenating not only the product line, but also bringing back, in full force, their emphasis on simplicity in advertising.


Continue reading Part 2 of this series exploring Apple’s advertising from 1997 to the present.


The Podcasters : Brad Fortin

by Linus Edwards


This is a continuing series in which I interview great podcasters to learn about their podcasting setups. While the content is always the most important aspect of a podcast, the technical craft in bringing that content to the listeners also deserves attention. I hope this series will illuminate that critical piece of the puzzle.

Brad Fortin is a Canadian podcaster (our third Canadian in this series) who is currently focussed on growing his own independent podcasting network.

What podcasts do you host?

My forray into podcasting began with my friend Tal. For a long time we floated around the idea of a podcast and finally got into it toward the end of 2012 with The Distraction. It started off as a tech site and podcast and slowly evolved into an interview show. We had quite a few good shows over its run but due to time constraints we weren't able to keep a regular schedule and eventually decided to put the show on indefinite hiatus.

Then, toward the end of 2013 I decided to start my own podcast, with BlackJack, and hookers. Alright, no BlackJack, nor hookers, but I did start podcasting again. I actually started a few podcasts in the hopes of eventually creating a small network of podcasts, under the Two Mono Channels network. The name is a play on words from when Tal and I were chatting with Dan Benjamin of 5by5. We were discussing editing and quality, there was a bit of confusion about mixing, and the Two Mono Channels name was born from the confusion.

I'm still not quite sure which direction I'm taking with the network. In terms of content it's all over the place with about a dozen ideas for podcasts, and a few episode ideas per podcast. In terms of scheduling I'm aiming for at least 1 new episode per month from the network. Eventually, if I get all my podcast ideas off the ground, I hope to have 1 episode of each podcast out per month. With up to a dozen podcasts that should work out to 2 or 3 episodes per week, which I think is manageable but might be a bit much if I'm trying to balance that with a full-time job. My current focus is on The Metacast, a podcast about podcasts and podcasting, and Handsome Bearded Gentlemen, a discussion show where beards and manners are optional but handsomeness is always assured.

The problem with podcasting is that there isn't a very good way to make money from it. More than anything it's a hobby for me right now. If I ever monetize Two Mono Channels I don't want it to be through ads because I hate ads. I've had a few ideas for monetization but until I try them I won't know how effective they are. I look forward to trying them out later this year.

What's your physical rig? (Computer, Mic, headphones, other accessories.)

I use my iMac as my recording machine. It's a late-2009, 27" (2560x1440), 2.8 GHz Intel quad-core i7-860 (the only iMac at the time with Hyper-Threading), with 12 GB of RAM, an ATI Radeon HD 4850 with 512 MB of VRAM, a 180 GB SSD as my OS X Mavericks drive, and a 120 GB SSD as my Boot Camp drive.

On the OS X side I have HiDPI mode enabled so that the screen behaves like a giant 1280x720 display, similar to how the MacBook Pro with Retina Display works. I also run most of my apps in Full Screen mode. I'm a monster. I keep Boot Camp for gaming despite the fact that the ATI 4850 can barely handle any new games unless I set the resolution to 720p.

I use a Shure PG27-USB as my recording microphone, which I got cheaply from a co-worker who didn't need it. The only thing keeping me from "eating the mic", as it's commonly called, is a pop filter. Most of the time I have a pair of Apple EarBuds plugged into the mic as a secondary output for my Mac, but when I record I use my Bose QC-20s.

What type of room do you record in?

I record in my bedroom, of all places. Until I get my own place this is the best I can do and it's worked well enough for me so far. It can get a little loud once in a while because my room is next to the kitchen, to the back door to the house, and to the bathroom. I try to schedule my recording away from those busy times, but once in a while you can hear someone doing dishes or running water in the background. I don't mind it all that much.

Ideally I'd record from an office or recording studio (dreaming big!).

What software do you use for recording and editing?

I typically use Skype for the calls, Call Recorder for Skype to record the audio, and then GarageBand for editing. I don't have very much experience with editing and GarageBand already has more tools than I know how to use so I don't see myself upgrading my editing software until I have greater needs or a piece of software comes out that makes it easier and faster.

I've been told I should invest in a program like Logic or Hindenburg but that's more than I'm willing to spend on a hobby that's not making any money at the moment, especially when GarageBand already meets or exceeds my needs.

What do you use to host your podcasts online?

I currently use Squarespace (the all-in-one platform that makes it easy to create your own website, blog, or portfolio...) to host my podcasts, although I've also considered Simplecast for its simplicity, or Libsyn for its versatility and robustness.

What's your basic workflow for recording a podcast and taking it to the published stage?

The first step to recording any podcast is to create the universe.

When recording a podcast I like to start with some good show notes, or at least a good idea of what I want to record. It sometimes takes days, even weeks to come up with just the right set of show notes or show ideas. If there's a guest I'll get a hold of them and see how much information they need, such as the show notes, and schedule a recording time.

Once the show is recorded I split the tracks if I need to, then I meticulously arrange the audio files in a series of folders, backup folders, and Dropbox folders. Just in case.

After that's taken care of I open an existing template for one of my podcasts or start a new one, drag the files in, and begin stripping the audio of all the parts I don't want. It's like taking a piece of wood, ice, or aluminium and carving it into a work of art. It takes lots of work, lots of time, and lots of patience. It also requires that I listen to the show multiple times, and parts of the show dozens or hundreds of times until it's been put together correctly.

Then I export the audio, create a new post on Squarespace, upload the audio, fill out the metadata, and schedule the post for publishing.

Would you like to change anything about your current podcasting setup?

The most important thing I'd like to change is portability.

Right now my life is split between living at home during the week (before and after work), and staying with my fiancé during the weekend. My biggest problem with this is that I can only go through most of my recording workflow when I'm at home during the week, either before or after work. The rest of the time I'm without my tools. Being able to bring them with me would give me a bit more versatility.

The alternative would be having my own place. My fiancé and I have been house hunting for over 2 years but still haven't found a place that we like. Once we have our own place I won't need my tools to be portable and I'll be able to record in a better environment.

Neither of those would make my shows any better, but they would at least make the workflow easier for me.

I'd also consider getting a new Mac soon. My iMac is getting close to 5 years old, it's running faster than ever thanks to my recent RAM and SSD upgrades, but the i7-860 and ATI (now AMD, that's how long it's been) 4850 can barely keep up with Mavericks. I'd like to upgrade to a 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display, but only if it gets a better GPU like Intel's Iris Pro graphics or the dedicated graphics that the 15" model can get. When I upgrade I want a machine that's better than my current machine in every way, even if I'm going from a desktop to a laptop.

Also, if I could make enough money from this to hire someone to take care of all the booking, recording, editing, mixing, and publishing, that would be great.