Isaacson's Book a Catalog of Reasons Why Steve Jobs Is a Hero to Marketers

Compelling Bio Shows How a CEO Can Build the World's Most-Valuable Company by Getting Involved in Everything

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Rance Crain
Rance Crain

When Ron Johnson, the new CEO of JC Penney, was designing the Apple Store, he woke up one night and realized he had gotten it all wrong.

The stores should organize displays around what people might do, not just around Apple 's four lines of computers. "For example, I thought there should be a movie bay [where] we'd have various Macs and PowerBooks running iMovie and showing how you can import from your video cameras and edit," Mr. Johnson told Walter Isaacson for his book about Steve Jobs. Could this insight be a clue to how Mr. Johnson will lay out the floors of his newly designed Penney stores -- how the stuff is used rather than just what it is ?

That's all well and good for Penney now, but at the time Steve Jobs was upset with Mr. Johnson for changing his plans. But Mr. Jobs later surprised him by backing the idea at an Apple meeting.

If nothing else, Steve Jobs had a simple business philosophy. "What we're trying to do is not highfalutin," he told a gathering of Apple executives after he returned to the company as interim CEO in the fall of 1997. "We're trying to get back to the basics of great products, great marketing and great distribution. Apple has drifted away from doing the basics really well."

Keep it simple, pare things down to the essence. Those were the basics. He could be volatile -- more like an erupting volcano -- when he didn't get his way, and that extended to advertising.

Here's what he said to the TBWA/Media Arts Lab creative guy responsible for the iPad advertising: "Your commercials suck. The iPad is revolutionizing the world, and we need something big. You've given me small shit." He said the ads looked like a Pottery Barn commercial.

Mr. Isaacson's compelling book on Steve Jobs shows how a CEO can build the world's most valuable company by getting involved in everything. All the elements were equally important—engineering, design (even of the packing boxes), advertising and marketing, distribution (the Apple stores) and presentation. He was nasty to people (not just subordinates), yet he cried when he was wounded or touched by something or someone.

For instance, when he was talking to Mr. Isaacson about the contribution of Lee Clow, the legendary creative and protector of Apple advertising, Mr. Jobs started to cry. "This chokes me up, this really chokes me up. It was so clear that Lee loved Apple so much. Here was the best guy in advertising. And he hadn't pitched in 10 years. Yet here he was, he was pitching his heart out, because he loved Apple as much as we did."

That's when Mr. Clow and his team at TBWA/Chiat/Day came up with "Think Different." Mr. Jobs said about that campaign: "Every once in a while, I find myself in the presence of purity -- purity of spirit and love -- and I always cry. ... I cried in my office as he was showing me the idea, and I still cry when I think about it."

Do you remember the opening lines? "Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. ... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

The line, pushing the human race forward, came from Mr. Jobs himself. He even did voice-over work for the commercial, but at the last minute he decided to go with the one Richard Dreyfuss did.

"If we use my voice, when people find out, they will say it's about me," he told Mr. Clow. "It's not; it's about Apple."

Mr. Isaacson wrote that after the "Think Different" ads, Mr. Jobs held a three-hour meeting every Wednesday afternoon with his top agency, marketing and communications people.

"There's not a CEO on the planet who deals with marketing the way Steve Jobs does," Mr. Clow told Mr. Isaacson. "Every Wednesday he approves each new commercial, print ad, and billboard." He even took his agency guys to Apple 's design studio to view its up-and-coming projects.

One of Mr. Jobs' basic tenets was the fewer the products, the better. When he returned to Apple after being forced out 10 years earlier, "he began slashing away at models and products," Mr. Isaacson said. He cut 70% of them. "You are bright people. You shouldn't be wasting your time on crappy products," Mr. Jobs told one Apple team.

His idea at the time was to make four products: a consumer desktop computer, a professional desktop, a consumer portable and a professional portable. In his first year back, he laid off 3,000 people and got out of the business of making printers and servers. And he killed Newton, the personal digital assistant.

If Mr. Jobs waxed poetic about "Think Different," he was much less enthusiastic about Apple 's iPad advertising. In fact, he and TBWA's James Vincent got into a heated shouting match over the direction (or lack thereof) of the advertising.

"What do you want?" Mr. Vincent asked Mr. Jobs. "You've not been able to tell me what you want."

"I don't know," Mr. Jobs replied. "You have to bring me something new. Nothing you've shown me is even close."

The confrontation between the two men continued to escalate. "You've got to show me some stuff, and I'll know it when I see it," Mr. Jobs finally said.

"Oh, great, let me write that on my brief for my creative people. I'll know it when I see it," Mr. Vincent countered.

Mr. Jobs is my hero because he continually made his products the hero. "We went down the lifestyle path," Mr. Clow said, but then Steve Jobs "told us to get back to the Apple voice. It's a simple, honest voice," showing all the things the iPad could do.

And that , in the end, was all that was needed.

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