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Telephone: (408) 996-1010
Web site: www.apple.com
In the late 1990s technology analysts speculated that Apple Computer, Inc.'s fate hinged on its new personal computer the iMac. Apple's share of the worldwide desktop-computer market had plummeted since 1995, the last year the company had been profitable. Ever greater numbers of consumers were buying personal computers (PCs) that ran on Microsoft's Windows operating system rather than Apple's version. Although Apple had pioneered user-friendly computers, the company had not introduced a consumer-targeted computer since 1992. Hoping that its stylish new iMac would propel Apple back into this vast segment of the market, Apple released its "iMac" campaign.
The $100 million campaign, created by the ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day, debuted on August 16, 1998. Its advertisements featured brightly hued computers against a plain white background, thereby further emphasizing the iMac's one-of-a-kind colorful shell, and contained snappy copy that underscored either the iMac's aesthetics or its user-friendliness. The campaign, which consisted of network and national cable television commercials (as well as spot television marketing in Apple's top 10 markets), magazine, billboard, and bus ads, and radio spots, was the largest marketing effort in Apple's history. But despite the high stakes involved for the company, the "iMac" campaign delivered its message in a "fun and factual" way, an Apple spokesperson stated in the August 14, 1998, San Francisco Chronicle. The ads highlighted the iMac's easy Internet access, its simplicity (especially when compared to rival PCs), and its speed. Central to each ad was the iMac's unique design. "Chic, not geek," proclaimed one, while another simply said, "iCandy."
The iMac's debut was triumphant, and 1998 proved to be Apple's first profitable year since 1995. Many industry analysts credited the iMac as the primary force behind this turnaround. "A year and a half ago, Apple had no future; now it does," proclaimed Fortune. Consumer surveys revealed that a substantial percentage of iMac purchasers were first-time Apple buyers, which indicated that the "iMac" campaign had succeeded in its goal of winning over new computer buyers and PC converts.
Founded in 1977, Apple had fallen on hard times by the mid-1990s. The company had made history in 1984 when it introduced the Macintosh, a machine that revolutionized the computer world with its graphical screen displays, pull-down menus, and other user-friendly features. While International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) licensed its operating system and other technologies, thereby launching an armada of inexpensive PC clones, Apple instead honed its image as the purveyor
Steve Jobs, one of Apple's founders, returned to the company as interim CEO in 1997 and quickly strove to right the troubled company. After trimming the product line to two broad categories—home and business—Jobs vowed to focus the "home" line on Apple's key markets of consumers and school users. At the same time Jobs oversaw the creation of 1997's "Think Different" advertising campaign, a high-profile effort designed to reassert that Apple, though plagued by bad press and sinking profits, was a vibrant company producing innovative products for innovative people. Jobs' strategy halted the company's free fall, and in April 1998 Apple reported its second straight profitable quarter. The company still needed to prove that it could compete for the consumer market with rival PC makers such as Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, and Dell. While Apple retained "Think Different" as an overarching branding campaign, it needed advertisements to herald the arrival of its newest machine, the iMac.
Apple wanted to market the iMac predominantly to three groups: loyal Apple users, first-time computer buyers, and PC owners. As the company had not introduced a new consumer product since 1992, it hoped that many Apple users would choose to upgrade to the iMac. The company had long cultivated a rebellious image, with advertisements ranging from the famous "1984" commercial to the stark "Think Different" photos of maverick geniuses who had flouted conventional wisdom to make stunning contributions. As a result Apple buyers tended to be those who perceived themselves to be somewhat outside the mainstream and who valued creativity. Advertisements for the iMac were crafted to reach this group as well. The print ads used arty photos of the iMac that made the computer look less like a machine and more like a museum piece. The taglines in some of the print pieces also followed the Apple advertising formula. For instance, "I think therefore iMac," punned on Descartes' famous maxim, and understanding the reference required a degree of intellectual
Reaching first-time computer buyers presented an entirely different set of challenges. An industry analyst estimated that 5 million to 10 million consumers were ready to buy their first computer. According to an Apple news release this analyst concluded that "access to the Internet is a leading reason for consumers to buy a personal computer." The technological world was often overwhelming to the uninitiated, though, with its talk of RAM, gigabytes, and modem speed. The "iMac" campaign sought to allay these consumers' fears. One print ad suggested that the most complicated aspect of buying an iMac was deciding which color to purchase. "The thrill of surfing. The agony of choosing," the piece quipped. "Buying a computer used to be a decision based on processor power, functions, and software packages," said the Austin American-Statesman. "iMac has changed things because it is now about choosing between strawberry and grape." Other print ads—"Yum" and "iCandy"—likened the machine to a sweet treat, further demystifying it. The television commercials, such as "Simplicity Shootout," also emphasized the iMac's user-friendliness by juxtaposing Apple's easy setup and Internet access with the hassle of trying to use a Windows-based PC for the first time. Commercials featuring the actor Jeff Goldblum validated the insecurities of the Internet "newbie." "It seems a big party is going on these days," Goldblum said to the camera, referring to the Internet. "[But] I don't have an e-mail." He then proceeded to explain how easy it was to get on the Internet with the iMac.
The third group Apple strove to target with the "iMac" campaign was consumers using other PCs. Many analysts doubted that Apple could entice an appreciable number of Windows aficionados to purchase the iMac as their next computer, according to Tulsa World. Apple believed it could. To do so, the company hammered home the message that the iMac was faster, simpler, and equally as affordable as comparable PCs. The "iMac" campaign conveyed that "[w]e have a better product," an Apple executive told Advertising Age. Apple also used the iMac's style as an important selling point. One particular print ad (that humorously declared, "Sorry, no beige" above a turquoise iMac) embodied an underlying premise of the "iMac" campaign: "people [would] be able to further express themselves through their computers," as an Apple spokesperson told the Austin American-Statesman.
The magnitude of Apple's goal of convincing first-time computer buyers and PC owners to consider the iMac was mammoth. According to Investor's Business Daily, 85 percent of the desktop-computer market consisted of Windows-based PCs. The leading computer manufacturer was Compaq, which in 1994 overtook IBM to
become the market leader. Compaq was no stranger to consumer-oriented advertising campaigns. In 1995 Compaq debuted "Has It Changed Your Life Yet?," which was created by the ad agency Ammirati Puris Lintas. The commercials were intended to show how Compaq PCs...