30 years after iconic Apple ad, a history of unorthodox marketing

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The man behind one of the most iconic ads of all time told a crowd that he's pleased it has stood the test of time. In 1984, John Sculley, then the CEO of Apple, was looking for a way to sell the first Macintosh. The company needed an ad that was as momentous as the device itself, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

“We just wanted to get out to the biggest audience,” Sculley told a crowd on Jan. 30 gathered to celebrate the ad's 30th anniversary. “Steve loved it being about emotion and experience—that the Mac would change the world.” That is, of course, Steve Jobs he's referring to. At the time the ad debuted, they were both friends and creative partners.

The enormity of the ad's success is the stuff of marketing lore. Featuring a woman single-handedly demolishing a totalitarian state – a timely homage to George Orwell's 1984 – the ad itself demolished all expectations. It was largely responsible for Apple selling 72,000 Macintoshes in the first 100 days of circulation, a figure 44 percent higher than initial projections. And the amount of air time the commercial was given by different networks covering its cultural impact amounted to roughly $45 million in free promotion. Not bad for a 30 second TV spot.

As Sculley explained to the crowd, the ad set the precedent for all Apple marketing to follow. But not all ads have measured up, as evidenced by a commercial the following year that led to a decrease in business for Apple, according to Forbes. Shortly after that commercial debuted, Sculley fired Jobs, and their working and personal relationship fizzled. Sculley's respect for Jobs, however, did not. Upon Jobs' death, Sculley called him “the greatest CEO ever.”

Yet despite their falling out, the fact remains that the two men's collaboration led to a company marketing strategy unlike any other. In its illustrious history of unconventional ads, here are a few that emerge as particularly noteworthy:

“Think Different”: A black-and-white gem from 1987, this ad featured a succession of historical figures like Muhammad Ali, Albert Einstein, John Lennon and Pablo Picasso, with the narrator promising that, “The only thing you can't do is ignore them.” Like the 1984 ad before it, this promo had very little to do with the Apple product line itself and much more to do with the human experience. It didn't matter that most of the figures shown did their work before the personal computer even hit the market. What mattered was that they represented icons for PC users to aspire to. As Sculley told the crowd gathered to celebrate the 1984 ad, “As hardware commoditizes, the user experience is what sets you apart.”

“Misunderstood”: This is a Christmas-themed ad for Apple in general and the iPhone more specifically. Structured as a series of family vignettes, the ad demonstrated the video capture capabilities of the iPhone through a teenager's filming of his family. Most of the ad apparently shows point-of-view footage from the iPhone's camera. However, you wouldn't be advised to throw snowballs into the screen as is featured in the ad, or you may be in the market for an iPhone screen replacement.

“Your Verse”: Another ad in Apple's line of user-based marketing, this one used a series of highly cinematic shots to illustrate the myriad capabilities of the iPad Air. Guided by a Robin Williams monologue from the film Dead Poet's Society, the 90-second ad posited that the most powerful feature of the iPad Air are the hands of its user. Like “Misunderstood,” this is an ad where the product is placed in some risky situations. And perhaps you should think twice before following the ad's lead and taking your iPad Air on your next deep-sea dive, unless you want an iPad repair.

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