I have an uneasy relationship with advertising. On one hand, as a graphic designer, it can be very satisfying to reach an audience with your message and have them respond in the way you want them to (becoming informed, taking action, making a purchase, and so on). On the other, when used to drive an audience to respond purely on an emotional level without engaging their facility for critical thinking, I believe it to be unethical and ultimately damaging to us as a people.
It is not enough to have an essence of truth in an ad. Just because something is true, does not make it right or needed in a person’s life, and as professionals who make advertising it is not enough to be clever and get people to respond. It’s one of the reasons why I choose to work more often in longer forms that do engage people as thinking, analytical creatures where you can give them a fighting chance to really consider what is being said to them, and if they really want it.
But there is one campaign that gets around all that for me. It’s one of the few times in my life that I went, “Yes, I want to belong to that group. That’s who I want to be.”
The Think Different campaign by TBWA\Chiat\Day\Los Angeles for Apple Computer in 1997 did not spur me to buy a Macintosh. That must be credited to a Mac-using friend who showed me what it could do. Up until that point, my exposure to the Mac had been a demo in 1984 of the first model which was impressive, but I didn’t have the money for something like that. I had (in order) a Radio Shack Coco II, a 286 running DOS, a Commodore 64 and then a 128, and finally an Amiga 2000. When I shorted out the Amiga’s motherboard adding another hard drive, I took out an exorbitant store loan (legalised loansharking) in 1997 to buy a refurbished Performa 6300CD and have not looked back since.
No, Think Different did not convince me to buy a Mac, but like so many creatives that point to the campaign as being inspirational, it reinforced that this is what I believe in. It is the campaign that makes me believe advertising can be done for the right reasons and it can benefit the society it speaks to, not merely distract us and part us from our money. Think Different delivered on its promise by promoting a computer that was unlike anything else at the time, and is still imitated poorly. It is elegant, considered and the damn thing just works.
The notable people featured are (all clickable to their Wikipedia entries) : Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sir Richard Branson, John Lennon (with Yoko Ono), R. Buckminster Fuller, Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, Ted Turner, Maria Callas, Mahatma Gandhi, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Amelia Earhart, Alfred Hitchcock, Martha Graham, Jim Henson (with Kermit the Frog), Frank Lloyd Wright, Pablo Picasso and Shaan Sahota (the girl). The narration was voiced by Richard Dreyfuss.
For those of you not familiar with the campaign, the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was not part of the original. He was added by me because he taught us as Canadians that we have our own unique identity worth embracing.
As a tribute to the original commercial, here are three versions of a Think Different desktop background. Click on the smaller versions to download the full-size JPGs.