When you think about the people at Apple the name Steve Jobs probably springs to mind. Maybe you’ve heard of the company’s cool British designer Jonathan Ive, or hark back to the old days of Steve Wozniak. If you’re an Apple keynote junkie you may even think of lovable old Phil Schiller. But have you ever heard of Ken Segall? Didn’t think so. I hadn’t heard of him either, until I read Leander Kahney’s fascinating interview with him on the Cult of Mac website.
Ken doesn’t actually work at Apple, but until recently was creative director at Apple’s advertising agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day. He dreamed up the name ‘iMac’, which of course led to all the other ‘i’ products: iPod, iBook, iPhone, iLife, iWork, and so on. And he wrote Apple’s award-winning – some would say company-saving – Think Different campaign.
Think Different reminded people that Apple was a little bit special, not just another PC maker. It was doing so badly in 1997 that it was entirely possible it wouldn’t be making slightly different computers for very long. Not that returning hero Steve Jobs was going to let that happen. He was going to save Apple, and that required a new approach to everything the company did – including its advertising.
“What are we going to do to recapture the spirit of that company?” asked Steve. “We’ve got some great products coming but we need to communicate to the world what the company stands for.”
The breakthrough came, says Ken, “when we stepped back and realised that the spark driving Apple existed long before Apple. It existed long before electricity. The ability to think creatively is one of the great catalysts of civilisation. So the logic seemed natural: why not show what kind of company Apple is by celebrating the people Apple admires? Let’s acknowledge the most remarkable people – past and present – who ‘change things’ and ‘push the human race forward’.”
The initial TV ad was called “Crazy Ones” and featured black-and-white video footage of iconic people who weren’t actually crazy but who stood apart from the herd – people like Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Muhammad Ali, Gandhi, Jim Henson, and Pablo Picasso.
The narrative was unlike any other computer advert: “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 praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.”
It’s wrongly assumed that Apple was claiming that it was fit to stand along with these creative innovators. Maybe Steve Jobs is unique enough to get on the list but surely not the failing, ramshackle company that was still selling beige boxes of components, the odd printer and AppleWorks. What Apple did say was “We make tools for these kinds of people,” although the inference is pretty hard to avoid.
But for all its banging on about creative innovation Apple was still just a beige box shifter. What it needed was a genuinely innovative product – one that wasn’t beige. And Steve had one waiting in the wings.
Ken recalls the moment the TBWA team were shown the top-secret product – the Bondi-Blue, bubble-shaped computer with the horrible mouse. They were horrified, but no one dared say so. “We were pretty shocked but we couldn’t be frank. We were guarded. We were being polite, but we were really thinking, Jesus, do they know what they are doing? It was so radical.”
Steve knew it needed a name as great as the computer was different. He suggested one at the meeting, but Segall says it was terrible. It was a name that would “curdle your blood”. Sadly Ken won’t tell us what Steve wanted to call it. That is one Apple secret I’d love to know.
An eye for an ‘i’
Ken came up with several suggestions, including his favourite: iMac. “It referenced the Mac, and the “i” meant internet. But it also meant individual, imaginative and all the other things it came to stand for.”
Steve rejected them all, including iMac. “He didn’t like iMac when he saw it. I personally liked it, so I went back again with three or four new names, but I said we still like ‘iMac’.”
Steve replied: “I don’t hate it this week, but I still don’t like it.” Then he started silk-screening the name on prototypes of the new computer to see if it looked good.
“He rejected it twice but then it just appeared on the machine,” remembers Ken.
Segall told Cult of Mac that over the past few years, Apple has debated dropping the ‘i’ prefix. “But there’s a desire to keep it consistent: iMac, iPod, iPhone. It’s not as clean as it should be, but it works.”
Think Different and the iMac were so successful that the once near-dead Apple followed it up with its “Switch” advertising campaign. This was a company back on its feet and confident enough in itself and its products that it was taking the fight right to Microsoft, Windows and the whole beige PC brigade.
Ken worked with Steve Jobs for years and describes him as “a very Walt Disney-like character”.
“He surrounds himself with creative people and gives them room to be creative. He’s an interesting combo of taste, no compromise and charisma. More times than not, he’s a charming, funny guy. His charismatic, fun side is what makes everyone want to follow him around.”
Ken still writes about Apple and the way technology companies do advertising. Check out his blog (http://kensegall.com/blog) for wit and real insight, and you might just think of Ken Segall next time you see one of Apple’s ‘i’ products.