Apple went through a few stages that illustrate the difference between having a clear purpose and being a more commodity player. When Apple was founded, Steve Jobs infused the company with his passionate opposition to conformity. Nowhere was this more evident than his choice to go head-to-head with IBM. Jobs and Apple looked at the world of computers and saw a large, soulless corporation using its market dominance to push conformity and mediocrity. In contrast, Apple was young, hip, and focused on empowering people to be the best version of themselves.
During the early 1980s when Apple was developing the Macintosh, Steve flew a pirate flag over corporate headquarters as a signal to his team that they were lawless disruptors. They were aggressive and believed that each person’s greatest strength is in their individuality, a stark contrast to Apple’s rival, IBM.
Once the Macintosh was ready to introduce to the world, they announced its launch with an ad during the Super Bowl XVIII which is widely regarded as one of the best advertisements of all time. It showed a drab, gray-tone world where people mindlessly trudged along between home and work. Many had gathered in an auditorium to watch a large video screen displaying their leader telling them what to do. Then an athletic young woman ran in carrying a sledgehammer while being chased by security. She spun around and hurled the hammer at the screen, shattering it. A voiceover then says that Apple would be releasing the Macintosh computer and the world would see “why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” The reference was to George Orwell’s dystopian classic novel 1984 portraying a world of enforced conformity. The ad was a wild success.
In 1983, Apple’s Board of Directors insisted on bringing in a seasoned business leader to be CEO. Steve Jobs recruited Pepsi President John Sculley to fill the role. Eventually, the two fought over sales performance of new products like the Macintosh and Steve was moved away to work on other projects. Jobs took his case to the Board and ended up getting fired from the company he’d helped start.
In the 11 years that followed, Apple’s advertising message primarily focused on its products, highlighting features and capabilities. By 1996, Apple was failing and Steve Jobs was invited back to stage a rescue. When he rejoined, the company had 90 days of operating cash left.
Jobs immediately cut non-performing products and started development of the iMac. This computer had a translucent outer shell in a variety of vibrant colors which was a stark contrast to the bland beige of most other computers. This was a return to Apple’s core values of individuality and self-expression, and the iMac led the way to Apple’s recovery.