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12 Apple ad campaigns spanning over 40 years — The hits and misses

12 Apple ad campaigns spanning over 40 years — The hits and misses

In over 40 years, Apple has created some of the most important commercials in the advertising industry. Check out 12 of these, both hits and misses!

8 min read
Jun 10, 2024

Apple was recently involved in a controversy over one of its ads. The commercial featured many creativity tools, such as instruments, paint buckets, paintings, video games, and others, inside a compressor while being crushed. As it lifts, it shows the new iPad Pro M4. While the concept is understandable, it threw off many creatives and created a massive backlash, to the point that Apple released an apology letter. Some might argue that it was intentional, and some might not, but in the end, it did get a lot of attention, right?

Filtering all the buzz, we need to agree on one thing. Apple has proven over the years that it is excellent at launching products and has had iconic ads throughout its history. So, good or bad, we will show some of their best and some of their most controversial ads.

1976 — Apple I

In 1976, Apple released its first computer, AKA the Apple I. One of the first ads they created for tech magazines of the time had a typo (“if” instead of “is”) right in the first sentence. The logo is also barely readable, and look at the price! Oops! In an interview with Byte magazine in 1984, Steve Wozniak said they gave it this price because he liked repeating numbers and had no idea its meaning and associations.

But let’s give them a break. It was their early years. They only produced 200 units of the Apple 1 and sold almost all of them. Also, giving credit where credit is due, the Apple I was the base, and it funded the production of the Apple II, considered one of the most important computers of all time, opening the doors to personal computing.

Apple's first ad for  the Apple-1

1976 — Apple II

Even with the Apple I typos and weird pricing, the Apple II was launched and instantly became a hit. It sold over 2 million units worldwide. Many commercials aired in different countries, and, as said, it opened the doors to personal computing.

Out of the many ads they released, this one stands out for its witty humor.

1984 — The Macintosh

1984 was one of the wildest years in history, as we all know it! We had Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire, the first MTV Video Music Awards with Madonna, Eddie Murphy in his prime, and movies like The Terminator, Dune, and Once Upon a Time in America.

It wasn’t different for Apple. 

They released the Apple Macintosh, the first personal computer with a user interface and a mouse. The release was during the Superbowl third-quarter commercial break, directed by Ridley Scott, with a budget of over $300,000, and the ad is considered one of the best ads in history.

But don’t get too excited!

In the same year, Apple took the opposite direction and released one of its corniest ads of all time: We Are Apple!

A sales-focused ad showing the productivity gains from using an Apple for sales teams tuned by the jingle version of Irene Cara’s Flashdance What A Feeling!

1988 — Pencil test

In 1988, 3 years after Steve Jobs left the company, Apple joined with some of the greatest animators in the World to create a story showing the animation capabilities of the Apple II. They came up with an engaging story of a pencil who leaves the computer screen trying to interact with a pencil on the table and then tries everything to get back to the — now turned off — computer.

Fun fact: Two animators credited with the project were John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, the minds behind Toy Story, Cars, and Finding Nemo for Pixar, the animation company founded by the man himself, Steve Jobs.

1996 — Mission Impossible

In 1996 Apple was going through a rough patch, having reported a quarterly loss of $740 million, their worst quarter in history. They decided to deal with Paramount Pictures to do product placements of their recently launched PowerBook 5300c on their upcoming Mission Impossible movie.

They created a website called “Mission Impossible: The Web Adventure,” one of the first examples of movie-specific websites in history. Additionally, they reportedly invested around $15 million in the deal.

Mission Impossible interactive website from Apple

The problems started when the deal took too long to close. By the time it was signed, the script had already been approved and couldn’t be changed. The late deal led to errors, such as the Mac used in a few scenes having a different command line than the actual Mac. Also, in one of the scenes, the computer expert on the team says the job can only be done by “Thinking Machines laptops,” a fictional computer.

To top it all off, they produced a commercial using some of the movie’s scenes. But it was just a messy mesh of footage from the movie and the Powerbook b-roll.

1997 — The crazy ones

This is the year that Steve Jobs came back to Apple.

After the bad previous years, Jobs wanted to restore the company’s image and did a corporate commercial to show the new philosophy. A manifesto narrated by him.

The ad ends with the slogan that became the company's icon for years, and we all know it. Think Different!

1998 — 3 steps

The internet was booming, but in 1998, connecting to the internet wasn’t easy. You needed the Internet Service Provider, third-party software such as AOL (America Online), and specific PC modem drivers. It was a hassle. 

So Apple, with its iMac G3, made things easier—plug and play. To advertise it, they invited Jeff Goldblum to narrate the commercial, only one year after his hit performance on “Independence Day.”

2001–2008 — iPod + iTunes

In the late 90s and the beginning of the 2000s, the music industry was going through a revolution. High-speed connections at home and digital music were becoming a thing. You could either buy a CD and convert it into MP3s or buy digital music directly online (or just download it illegally using P2P programs like Napster). There was no Spotify or Deezer back then!

Back then, you plugged in an MP3 player, uploaded your music to it, and rocked your headphones to listen to it on the go. Yes, we did that! At the time, probably everyone had a version of an MP3 player like the one below, which could store ONE full album. Harsh times, I know.

MP3 player 2000's

That’s when Apple released the iPod!

What a revolution that was. The first version boasted 5 GB of storage, meaning a little over 1000 CDs. Along with the iPod, they launched iTunes, which you could use to easily transfer music to the iPod and keep your computer and player’s library in sync. The same music could be heard while working or on the go.

The iPod was stylish and had a touch wheel, which was incredible for scrolling through music and folders. Most of all, it became an icon!

The very first ad they released portrayed exactly that.

In 2004 Apple, with the renowned TBWA\Chiat\Day agencies, created a campaign that ran for 5 years, until 2008. The Silhouette campaign.

They used the same campaign strategy for many releases over those years, such as the iPod mini or the PC and MAC versions of the iTunes. They also collaborated with many industry giants, such as U2, Jet, Daft Punk, Gorillaz, etc.




Daft Punk

2006–2009 — Get A Mac

From 2006 to 2009, Apple had trouble selling MACs while PCs were dominating the market. To revamp the MAC image, they paired with TBWA/Media Arts Lab to create one of their most successful campaigns ever. In it, comedians Justin Long and John Hodgman played the roles of a PC and a MAC.

As the PC, John is an uptight man wearing a cringe suit, and Long, as the MAC, is wearing casual and cool clothes. They had short conversations about the benefits of the MAC over a PC. Jason Sperling, one of the campaign's creators, said in a podcast that many of them had guest appearances of celebrities such as Zack Galifianakis, Jenna Fisher, and Jeffrey Tambor. The campaign was so big, though, that many recorded in the studio but didn’t make the final cut to be aired.

The campaign aired over 60 commercials, and right off the bat, in the first month, it reportedly generated a 200,000 increase in Mac sales, and the market share grew 42%. 

In 2007, it was awarded the Grand Effie Award.

Fun fact: The composer Mark Mothersbaugh created the ad's score. Mark works frequently with Wes Anderson and has composed soundtracks for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums, Bottle Rocket, and Rushmore.

2007 — iPhone Hello

While revamping the MAC’s image and reshaping the music industry, Apple released the product that would revolutionize communication: the iPhone.

On February 25, 2007, the first official ad for the iPhone came out during the Oscars, and it featured some of the most iconic Hello’s throughout the history of filmmaking. “Hello” was the slogan for the product for many years after they launched it.

2019 — Bounce

Again, Apple hit it out of the ballpark! With their long time advertising partners, TBWA Media Arts Lab and produced by Pulse Films, they launched a beautiful campaign for their newly released Airpods 2.

With Bounce, they were nominated for the 2020 Emmy for Outstanding Commercial, won the top prize at the ADC (Art Director's Club) awards, the Yellow Pencil at the D&AD awards, the Webby Awards for Branded Content and others.

2024 — Crush!

Finally, we get to this year's controversial ad. As we said before, it is a controversial ad, but after watching all these ads, I’ll leave you all with a question. What is your take on this ad?

Do you have any other favorite ads from Apple? Let us know, and who knows? With over 40 years of advertising, Apple might deserve a second blog post with other iconic ads.

Wrapped up by the sound of The Kooks — Naive

About the author
Mario Neto
Mario Neto
Americana, Brazil

Mario is a Content Specialist at Revealbot. He's passionate about creating engaging and educative content. When not writing, he’s binging TV shows or learning something completely random. 🤓

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