Nike's ads inspired Steve Jobs for Apple's 'Think Different' campaign 20 years ago — he called them 'the best example of all'

The late Apple CEO, Steve Jobs
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

When Steve Jobs made his dramatic return to Apple in 1997 (after having been fired in 1985), one of his top priorities was reinvigorating not just the company's products, but the brand's image.

In Apple's early days, it was known for unconventional marketing. In 1984, the company created one of the best known TV commercials ever with its ad for the Macintosh, inspired by George Orwell's book "1984," which showed a heroine smashing a screen with "Big Brother."

But Apple's brand had become unfocused in his decade long absence, Jobs said in a 1997 talk given to employees.

"The Apple brand has clearly suffered from neglect," Jobs said. "We need to bring it back."

For inspiration, he turned to Nike.

"The best example of all, and one of the greatest jobs of marketing the universe has ever seen is Nike," Jobs explained. "Remember, Nike sells a commodity. They sell shoes. And yet when you think of Nike, you feel something different than a shoe company. In their ads, they don't ever talk about their products. They don't ever tell you about their air soles and why they're better than Reebok's air soles. What does Nike do? They honor great athletes and they honor great athletics. That's who they are, that's what they are about."

He wanted to do the same for Apple's brand. "The way to do that is not to talk about speeds and feeds. It's not to talk about MIPS and megahertz, it's not to talk about why we're better than Windows," Jobs said.

Jobs went on in the talk to announce Apple's newest ad campaign, which used the tagline "Think Different," and featured pictures of legendary thinkers like Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King and John Lennon. The ads didn't describe Apple computers' specifications or functions, but instead gave a sense of the company's mission.

A billboard of Apple's "Think Different" campaign with Yoko Ono and John Lennon in Los Angeles, California in 1998
Gilles Mingasson | Liaison | Getty Images

"This wasn't about processor speed or memory," Jobs said of the ad according to Walter Isaacson's biography "Steve Jobs." "It was about creativity."

Today, Nike is still releasing commercials that aren't focused on product details, but instead aim to stir audiences' emotions, like the ones that inspired Jobs.

On Monday Sept. 3, an ad for the 30th anniversary of Nike's "Just Do It" campaign featuring former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was revealed when Kaepernick tweeted it. The ad drew instant reaction on social media in both support and opposition to Kaepernick's activism in the NFL. The Kaepernick commercial debuted during the NFL's season opener on Thursday. 


Kaepernick, who isn't currently signed with an NFL team, started a national conversation around racial injustice in 2016 when he knelt during the national anthem of a NFL preseason game instead of standing.

President Donald Trump even weighed in on the ad and social media reaction, tweeting: "Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way?"


Though Nike shares fell Sept. 4 after the reveal, product orders rose 27 percent from Sept. 2 to Sept. 5 CNBC reported

Marketing expert and professor at the NYU Stern School of Business Scott Galloway told CNBC the Kaepernick ad was "genius," and likely to boost favor with key age demographics.

Whether consumers favor or dislike the ad, they are certainly talking about it: The controversy has led to media exposure for Nike worth $163.5 million, according to Apex Marketing.

Nike's anniversary campaign also features Lebron James and Serena Williams.


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In 1985, Steve Jobs made these eerily accurate predictions about the future of tech
In 1985, Steve Jobs made these eerily accurate predictions about the future of tech