A decade later, ad team behind iconic 'Get a Mac' campaign recounts development & production

Posted:
in General Discussion edited December 2016
Stars John Hodgman, Justin Long and the ad team responsible for Apple's 'Mac vs. PC' campaign -- launched in conjunction with the Intel Mac -- recently got together and talked about the evolution of the concept, other celebrity ad campaigns proposed and scuttled, and the difficulties of working with perfectionist Steve Jobs.




To mark the 10-year anniversary, Campaign US asked members of the creative team, the production crew, and the actors to share the untold stories of how the iconic campaign that ran until 2009 came to life.

Discussions about the Mac vs. PC campaign began with a Steve Jobs edict handed down in September 2005. No deadline, and few details were provided to TBWA\Chiat\Day, other than the fact that the new Intel Mac line needed a powerful ad campaign to back it.
The team shot 323 spots over three years just to get the 66 that made it on air.
"Do you really want to pound your competitor to the ground and look like the bully," said campaign Executive Producer Mike Refuerzo. "Thankfully at that point we were the underdog, so we could be a little more hard-hitting."

Other celebrities approached for different campaigns

Other ideas floated included a series of ads with Owen Wilson, involving the star showing up at a "PC guy's" house to stage an intervention.

After Apple committed resources into the campaign, Wilson allegedly strung the contract crew along for weeks before declining the project.




Similar concepts emerged with Will Ferrell, John Cusack, and Ben Stiller, none of which came to fruition.

Dealing with Steve Jobs

To launch the process, Jobs reportedly just said that "the Mac needs a campaign," which pushed dozens of executives and creatives into the process to spawn ideas for presentation to the Apple CEO. As a result of the clarion call, for six months, the team presented between 10 and 15 ideas every week.

When an idea was accepted for further evaluation the team, including Jobs, would elaborate on the campaign to judge what it would look like outdoors, and how the same ideas on print would resolve.

"Steve demanded perfection. Just looking at a reflection on a screen at the 17-second mark, he'd tell the team, 'Stop, why didn't you do better with your lighting?'," said Creative Director Jason Sperling. "He was quite punishing if you didn't do it right."

Many pitches were outright rejected by Jobs, for the smallest of reasons.

"As we went through script after script, Steve kept saying, 'That's fucking stupid. That is so inane. Who the hell cares about that?'" added Sperling.

After what one participant said was seven months into the process, Jobs started questioning the ability of the team to produce what he so nebulously demanded.

"Where's my campaign," Jobs reportedly asked. "If you can't do it, we've got to find someone that can."

Breakthroughs

After the threat of the agency being fired from the project, two designers got "back to basics" and recounted the core of the project, realizing that they didn't need to explain to Mac people why Apple was a better choice, but needed to point out problems with the PC to Windows users.

"Let's make it really simple," said Associate Creative Director Barton Corley. "A Mac walks into the room right now. What does he say?"

"'Hello, I'm a Mac.'" Creative Director Scott Trattner said, "Yeah, and there could be a guy who says, 'I'm a PC,' and they talk about being computers."

The "Virus" ad was the first script written for the campaign, with Jobs demanding Justin Long being brought in for the role of the Mac.





"Obviously I read for the PC, which I found to be a little bit surprising, because at that point I was about to turn 35--I still considered myself to be a 24-year-old thin, cool person," said actor John Hodgman about being called into audition. "I just needed to look terrible. Even without clothes on, I was already 90 percent there."

The actors nearly immediately changed the focus of the characters, and turned the Mac and PC characters into friends, versus the adversarial relationship that the initial scripts suggested.

"I knew in the first week we were shooting that they were really special," said Trattner about shooting the spots. "Their chemistry, the purity of the story, that what we created was really special."

The team shot 12 spots in the first round. Jobs denied eight of them, focusing on "the ones that were great."

The team shot 323 spots over three years just to get the 66 that made it on air. The final spots were shot in October 2009, as Jobs announced the iPad the following January and the company's focus changed.

Jobs also shot down several spots in the same campaign related to the iPhone.

Legacy

"There is a lot of great Apple advertising, but I think Mac and PC was the best of Apple because it managed to do something that was completely surprising and unprecedented," said Executive Creative Director Eric Grunbaum. "Yet at the same time, totally rooted in the brand and in the tradition and what makes Apple, Apple."

The U.S. duo were dubbed in many markets. For the U.K. market, the ads were recast with the popular British comedy double act Mitchell and Webb in the lead roles. A popular comedy duo in Japan were tapped for ads in that market.

Mitchell and Web in the U.K.
Mitchell and Webb in the U.K. "get a Mac" campaign


"I remember this feeling of it had gone on too long until it stopped." said Long. "And then it wasn't enough."

"If it sounds like I'm at peace with the fact that it is over and I've now moved on with my life, let me assure you, I am not at all at peace," added Hodgman. "I would like to be working, doing those ads right now, and I want you to please call Jason (Sperling) and tell him. I am in wardrobe, ready to go, anytime."
macgui
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 38
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 5,184member
    I'm glad they went with the concept they did. The others sounded dumb and I don't think they'd be anywhere near as successful as the I'm a Mac and I'm a PC ads were. I know these ads pissed some people off, but they were truly successful. They were funny (I think), and got the point across very fast. They did exactly what they were designed to do. And, It was the perfect time to run them as well. Microsoft was absolutely struggling with Windows Vista and Apple was pounding them into the ground with these ads. 

    Today, the Mac isn't quite as important to Apple, but it would be cool to see a new Mac ad campaign. First, Apple needs a reason to run a campaign for the Mac. 
    edited December 2016 tomkarlbuzdotsration alredgeminipacornchiptallest skiljony0
  • Reply 2 of 38
    "Discussions about the Mac vs. PC campaign began, with a Steve Jobs edict handed down in September 2015." Gah!
    cornchip
  • Reply 3 of 38
    spice-boyspice-boy Posts: 1,443member
    I enjoyed these ads as well, good actors and Hodgman usually stole the show. I also remember the copy cat ads from Microsoft "I'm a PC" really? Since then the "I'm a" thing has spread to other non tech ad campaigns which few people can remember the original use in these Apple ads.
    ration alredgeminipacornchip
  • Reply 4 of 38
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,560member
    macxpress said:
    II know these ads pissed some people off, but they were truly successful.

    The only people pissed off were those techies who couldn’t handle the truth. No one in the target audience was offended in the least.
    tomkarlpscooter63longpathalbegarcbaconstangredgeminipacornchipjony0
  • Reply 5 of 38
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,457member
    Those were great ads. I know several non-techie people who had never used a Mac, but bought one in large part because of these ads. 

    It would be nice to have Mac-oriented advertising today, but I don't see it happening. It's not just that Apple isn't really very focused on the Mac anymore... without Jobs there to demand perfection, I fear what we'd end up with. The descriptions of some of those early efforts really sound bad. The last thing I want to see on TV is a Mac version of the Dell dude. 
  • Reply 6 of 38
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,407member
    As a user 7 days a week of Macs I for one miss some of the perfectionism :)
    Subrandomlightknightbuzdotsnubus
  • Reply 7 of 38
    boredumbboredumb Posts: 1,418member
    It was the best of ads, it was...the best of ads...
    paxmanmacgui
  • Reply 8 of 38
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,322member
    As a user 7 days a week of Macs I for one miss some of the perfectionism :)
    Macs, and MacOS were never "perfect"- not even close. However, a strong argument could be made that Macs and MacOS today are the most "perfect" (ie. best) that they've ever been since inception. At least, as someone who uses a Mac every single day and makes 100% of my revenues from it, that's my experience.
    pscooter63lightknightredgeminipacornchiplolliver
  • Reply 9 of 38
    Reunite the team and get some whimsy back into Apple ads. Current ones are beautiful, sensitive, and ineffective. 
    pscooter63gtr
  • Reply 10 of 38
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,407member
    And all done without Tweets!
    baconstang
  • Reply 11 of 38
    A few of my favorites are where the calm, serene yoga instructor gets increasingly mad at PC... Gong!

    The one with the super-cute cheerleader "we're number one." When corrected, w/o missing a beat, "we're number two!" Hilarious! 

    And lastly the sunglass wearing security guy standing behind PC...interrupting him constantly with "cancel or allow" with PC showing increasing frustration and finally, "Sad realization..."

    Brilliant. I really looked fwd to the ads.

    Best
    baconstangcornchiplolliver
  • Reply 12 of 38
    "'That's fucking stupid. That is so inane. Who the hell cares about that?'"

    Damn. Where's this kind of clarity and leadership in dealing with messaging? I don't mean just at Apple (whose current cringe-worthy ads, btw, have me reaching for the  mute button...)
    digitol
  • Reply 13 of 38
    Great ads! All this nostalgia about Apple, have they jumped the shark?
  • Reply 14 of 38


    The team shot 12 spots in the first round. Jobs denied eight of them, focusing on "the ones that were great."

    The team shot 323 spots over three years just to get the 66 that made it on air. The final spots were shot in October 2009, as Jobs announced the iPad the following January and the company's focus changed.
    I'd pay to see the outtakes!

    Apple should put stuff like that out, instead of some coffee table book...
    edited December 2016 baconstangdigitol
  • Reply 15 of 38
    And all done without Tweets!
    #lifewasbetterbefore #lol #hashtags
  • Reply 16 of 38
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,457member
    slurpy said:
    As a user 7 days a week of Macs I for one miss some of the perfectionism :)
    Macs, and MacOS were never "perfect"- not even close. However, a strong argument could be made that Macs and MacOS today are the most "perfect" (ie. best) that they've ever been since inception. At least, as someone who uses a Mac every single day and makes 100% of my revenues from it, that's my experience.
    I agree. I think the core software technology for all Apple products is the best it's ever been. 

    I also think it's indisputable that the team responsible for the A-chips is amazing -- some of the b st chip designers in the world. 

    I just wish the rest of the company was playing at that level. 
    ration al
  • Reply 17 of 38
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,457member
    "'That's fucking stupid. That is so inane. Who the hell cares about that?'"

    Damn. Where's this kind of clarity and leadership in dealing with messaging? I don't mean just at Apple (whose current cringe-worthy ads, btw, have me reaching for the  mute button...)
    Unfortunately I think we need to clarify for people that it was only "clarity and leadership" because he was right. 

    Simply going around and saying that things are "fucking stupid" doesn't make you a great leader. 

    It's the difference between Darth Vader and a pathetic wannabe like Kylo Ren. 
    firelockrandominternetperson
  • Reply 18 of 38
    sandorsandor Posts: 590member
    slurpy said:
    As a user 7 days a week of Macs I for one miss some of the perfectionism :)
    Macs, and MacOS were never "perfect"- not even close. However, a strong argument could be made that Macs and MacOS today are the most "perfect" (ie. best) that they've ever been since inception. At least, as someone who uses a Mac every single day and makes 100% of my revenues from it, that's my experience.
    we have definitely come a long way from MacOS 6. Definitely ups & downs along the way, but immense progress.

    (i am also happy Apple reverted to MacOS nomenclature)
    ration al
  • Reply 19 of 38
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,348member
    System 6.   Mac OS didn't come along until macOS 7.6.  
    ai46
  • Reply 20 of 38
    It's interesting to reflect on the history of Apple and where they are now. On one hand, the products that get the most press are different—mobile today, desktop/laptops back them. But still, the best selling point (at least when steer people toward a macOS or iOS device) is that "It just works."

    AppleInsider said:
    "Do you really want to pound your competitor to the ground and look like the bully," said campaign Executive Producer Mike Refuerzo. "Thankfully at that point we were the underdog, so we could be a little more hard-hitting."
    Apple will always be a bit of an underdog because of marketshare. Sure, some people now see Apple as a bully, but as long as Apple continues to focus on higher-end (and higher priced) devices, they will always be able to be hard-hitting because most people will not have an Apple device.
    edited December 2016 baconstang
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