The Personal Computing Paradigm
Thinking About “Think Different”
I've always believed Apple's public relations to be one root of the company's troubles. Many people who've never used a Mac have false perceptions about them. Unfortunately, Apple's PR has never dispelled myths that started in the mid-eighties—that Macs are overpriced, underpowered toys. A history teacher of mine had a favorite saying, "What is thought is often more important than what is." These words of wisdom are particularly relevant for the computer industry, whose products are difficult to evaluate, quantitatively or qualitatively, from a television or print ad.
When you get down to it, the Mac is great because its many subtle touches: hardware-software integration, consistent look and feel, and overall attention to detail and elegance. How can one communicate these ideas in print? Apple has always had a hard time doing this. By contrast, automobile and tobacco industries (to name a few) have traditionally found ways to attract customers while not depending upon advertising their products' subtleties. They associate ideas with their products.
Last spring, Gil Amelio thought Apple should advertise more. I remember him saying it was only a matter of time before Apple started running television ads. "Advisor" Steve Jobs was strongly against advertising then, saying it would be a waste of money with all the negative press Apple was getting. Needless to say, things are different now. Amelio is out, Jobs is in, and a few weeks ago Apple's new ad campaign was launched on television, in publications, and in cities all over the country. It's about time.
I don't think Jobs has reversed his advertising position. I think the times have changed. First, Apple actually has a decent rapport with the press now. Mac OS 8 sales are booming and the Microsoft deal, though not very substantial, helped to mend the "Apple's going out of business" presumption. The Think different ads are vastly different from anything Apple has done in the past. I think they're much better.
I didn't always have these opinions. After missing its premiere during Toy Story, I searched the Internet for QuickTime movies of the Think different ad. I avoided reading any commentary before I watched it because I didn't want my perceptions influenced. I downloaded an MPEG version of the movie, opened it in MoviePlayer, adjusted my monitor's resolution to 640 by 480 (to magnify the picture), and presented the movie at full screen size. Knowing Think different was the result of the same Jobs-Chiat/Day combination that brought us the most stunning commercial of all time—1984—I prepared myself to be amazed.
I recognized most of the people—Einstein, Edison, Lennon, Hitchcock, King, Ali, Gandhi, Earhart, Henson, Picasso, and the omnipresent voice of Dreyfuss. "Cool," I thought, "what a nice tribute to some extraordinary individuals." Nevertheless, I thought the ad was a failure. It didn't have anything to do with the Macintosh. I was expecting something shocking and rousing. I wanted to hear why 1998 wouldn't be like 1995, but what came through my Diamond Pro was "touchy-feely" and insubstantial, certainly not the killer ad I expected.
I watched it again and recognized a few more people: Bob Dylan, Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright. The inclusion of Martha Graham was a nice touch because it subtly continued Apple's musical
operating systems theme; Aaron Copland wrote his famous Appalachian Spring for Graham and her company. I had a greater appreciation for the ad, but I still thought it was too abstract, too unrelated to the Macintosh.
I decided to sleep on it and said to myself, "It'll seem different tomorrow morning."
I woke up and immediately watched Think different. I liked it so much that I looped it six times in a row and discovered that, like a good book or piece of music, Think different gets better every time. I began to notice subtle touches—the way the narration precisely lined up its comments with the imagery, the way the crazy ones were taken from different eras so every viewer could identify with someone, the sincere feeling in Dreyfuss' words, the way the calm score stayed in the background but supported the images very well. For someone who isn't easily moved by anything on television, it was a truly emotional experience.
Mostly, I was relieved that Think different wasn't a replay of 1984. Don't get me wrong; 1984 was an excellent ad—for its era. The world was afraid of computers, the Macintosh was something completely different, and people still thought of Apple as a company started by two guys in a garage.
Times have changed. If 1984 were aired in 1997, it would have a negative effect on Macintosh, whose advocates have established a reputation for acting like raging religious zealots. I don't consider myself a zealot. I don't think you have to be crazy to publish an e-zine about a computer you love. Then again, compare the number of Windows '95 e-zines to the number of Mac ones, and I think you'll see a trend. It may not seem like we're doing it, but Mac users do make a disproportional amount of noise. This isn't necessarily a bad thing—but it is something to watch. Rather than being thought of as a group of noisemakers, we'd like people to think of us as a group of idealists, aesthetes, people who choose a computer that best fits their needs, people who want to change the world—in some small way.
A blatantly rebellious ad would only strengthen our negative image and make it harder for companies and individuals to choose Macintosh. People who don't already have Macs are not interested in buying into a religion; they want a computer that works. Mac OS running on Mac-compatible hardware does just that. If you want to help the Macintosh cause, more power to you. If you want a computer that gets the job done, I know of none better than the Macintosh. The point is that Think different paints Macintosh users in a different light. By showing the crazy ones in all their glory, it portrays a wider view on life than "Mine's faster than yours." It illustrates a concept with which any Mac user can identify—from a casual user to an advocate. It can withstand the test of time.
I believe Think different's message is top notch, but more is needed than just a message. Apple needs to follow this up with hard-hitting, product-specific ads. It appears they've already planned this. I hope they continue to run ads like the PowerBook 3400's "Incite rubbernecking," and continue to run Think different-type ads for at least the next few years. Think different ads won't get old as fast as "200 Mhz for $999" ads, though I think each has its place. The more people become exposed to Apple's newfound ideals, the more comfortable those ideas will be. Eventually, public perception of Apple may change from "troubled computer-maker" to "recognized pioneer and innovator."
Apple has some excellent machines coming out around the second week of November—some of the best ever released, if my sources are correct. If they can show that Apple is a brand with a message—that its customers are people who want to change the world—and follow up with ads showing top-notch products that deliver on the company's promises, they could have a lot of success on their hands.
All in all, I think it's good to know that Apple thinks of itself as more than a computer maker. Think different is a positive ad; it doesn't insult people's intelligence the way Lemmings did. Most importantly, the ad is classy. I think anyone seeing it would be proud to support the company that made it, if only because the message is universal and its execution so top-notch. Like the girl at the end, I hope the
public's eyes will be opened to what truly is a new Apple.
Some Relevant URLs
QuickTime Versions of Think different and 1984
A QuickTime Version of Think different
Think different Desktop Pictures
Steve Jobs Announcing Think different at Seybold (RealAudio)
Apple's Think different Web Site
56-bit RC5 is Cracked
Last month I encouraged everyone to participate in cracking the 56-bit RC5 code. The correct key was found on October 22, about 47% of the way through the keyspace. Distributed.net and others are now participating in a 64-bit challenge, which will take considerably longer to solve. Sometime in the near future, it will be possible to take part in one of several projects, all from the same piece of client software. In the meantime, I urge everyone to take a look at <http://www.distributed.net> and <http://www.distributed-mac.net>. Please donate your idle-time computing cycles to a good cause.
"The Personal Computing Paradigm" is © 1997 by Michael Tsai, <firstname.lastname@example.org>.Michael is still searching for the ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life,the universe and everything.
Also in This Series
- How Cool Is Your Mac? · May 2012
- Mac OS X’s Increasing Stability · August 2006
- Coping With Mac OS X’s Font Rendering · January 2006
- E-Mail Archiving with Eudora and Mail.app · January 2003
- Grab Bag · October 2002
- Mac OS X 10.2—First Impressions · September 2002
- Mac OS X 10.1—First Impressions · October 2001
- Mac OS X Tips · June 2001
- Mac OS X—Finally · May 2001
- Complete Archive