Think about it

9th April 2019

Think about it

As Steve Jobs said, “The lesson in life is that everything you see around you was made up by people who are no smarter than you. And you can change it”.

When you think about it, everything is made up. From the big things like race and gender, to the little things like daylight savings and advertising norms. It probably seems like there was never a time when there wasn’t an ‘idea’ behind every advertising campaign – but that was the case for a long time. There was a time when people thought what a product did was more important than the brand’s identity and values. Two advertising campaigns in particular stand out in history as moments when these ideas started to change. All it took was for someone to think.

The first was for an ‘ugly’ car, a car that was cheap and for the common person. And not only was it a car that was German in a time when being German wasn’t a very popular thing to be, but Hitler himself had a hand in designing and funding its creation. On paper it was a hard sell in a 1950’s market that promoted luxury, lifestyle and the latest in style and status. Luckily there was a guy who believed that advertising needed creativity and an idea behind it in a time when creativity wasn’t really a part of the process. He believed in this so much that he started his own agency – DDB. This was a time when copywriters and designers were basically technicians following a textbook formula, they wrote and designed what was dictated to them. The formula was all about outlining the product benefit together with an image selling the idea that status equalled happiness. And the repetitive nature and status anxiety caused by these ads was making people switch off. Bill Bernbach’s approach to advertising threw the textbook out the window because he knew that the accepted way didn’t necessarily make it the right way.

The car was the Volkswagen Beetle and the campaign – Think Small – sparked advertising’s creative revolution. It took the traditional ad layout and turned it on its head with widows and orphans everywhere, the logo in a seemingly random place, the small picture of the car in a sea of white space and the copy selling a mindset rather than the benefits. The idea was smart, it was honest about the car’s negatives and normalised them. It was simple and mirrored the anti-status sentiment brewing at the time. ‘Think Small’ was the antithesis to status symbol cars, it was promoting the benefits of simplicity and practicality. The design and copy treated the consumer with intelligence and let them in on the joke rather than alienating them from a product that is promoted as too good for them. And customers got it, sales went up and teenagers were even ripping it out of magazines to paste to their bedroom walls – it became a vital part of the counter culture of the 60s. It proved that creativity did sell and the creative revolution that followed marked a new era in advertising.

The second campaign came much later in 1997 when, after being forced out of his own company 12 years earlier, Steve Jobs returned to Apple as CEO. When he returned Apple were struggling and their biggest competitor was IBM who had the slogan “Think”. Jobs was unhappy with the advertising direction that Apple had taken in his absence and invited three advertising agencies to pitch some ideas to him. It was Chiat\Day who walked in with the big idea – “Think Different”. That one extra word started Apple’s dominance as a marketing powerhouse, with their ads not just selling a product but a mentality. It was a simple execution, but it was a powerful one, showing that creative thinking plays a massive role in a brand’s strategy. Apple may sell a ‘serious’ product, but they’re one of the most creative companies in the world. The brilliant thing was that the ads weren’t really related to technology at all. Instead, they featured brilliant people across history who have had a think different mentality and linked them to Apple. It set Apple up as a revolutionary thinker and set a precedent for them being the market leader. But not only that, the campaign was one of the first to incorporate values into a brand. And as we know now, brand values create greater customer loyalty than just listing a product’s benefits. Because while Apple might not necessarily be better than anyone else – they’ve definitely got the best personality.

The lesson here is that we should never be accepting the standard way of doing things. We should always be looking at things from a new angle, celebrating the weird and the different, and seeing how far we can push our creativity. We should always be wondering what the next think will be.

– Emily Julius,
Copywriter at Nick Did This