The Simplicity of Apple’s Advertising : 1997-Present

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:


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.

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.

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