Could the Apple/TBWA Love Affair Continue Without Jobs?

We Take a Look at the Dynamic Behind One of the Most-Storied Matchups in History of Advertising

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- With Steve Jobs' position at Apple in question, will the company -- perhaps the most dynamic advertiser of the current age -- continue to "Think Different"? And will it do so with longtime agency partner TBWA?

ALL THOSE YEARS AGO: Apple's Steve Jobs (l.) and TBWA's Lee Clow, circa 1984.
ALL THOSE YEARS AGO: Apple's Steve Jobs (l.) and TBWA's Lee Clow, circa 1984.
The "Think Different" motto helped bring Apple back to popularity after a fallow period following Mr. Jobs' forced departure from the tech concern in the mid-1980s. When Mr. Jobs returned in 1997, he immediately rehired TBWA/Chiat/Day, the agency that put Apple on the map with what has long been recognized as the best Super Bowl ad of all time: an eyebrow-raising 1984 riff on George Orwell that showed a female warrior shattering a TV screen broadcasting a "Big Brother" type keeping viewers under tight control. In the process, the ad introduced the Macintosh computer to the masses.

At its core, Apple's ad business has long been based on a marriage of top client executive and top creative. Mr. Jobs and Lee Clow, chairman and global director of TBWA's Media Arts Lab and chief creative officer of the TBWA network, have been joined at the hip for years. Mulling the long-term stability of the alliance is, simply put, natural.

Now, Mr. Jobs' health is returning to the headlines. (Apple has tasked Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook with day-to-day running of the company while Mr. Jobs, who remains chief executive, attends to his well being.) And Mr. Clow is handling fewer day-to-day responsibilities.

There's precedent to consider. After all, Pepsi and BBDO (like TBWA, owned by Omnicom Group) once had an alliance forged in steel by executives who moved in lockstep: Phil Dusenberry and Allen Rosenshine at the agency, and Roger Enrico and Alan Pottasch at the beverage maker. As the executives moved on, the account ties grew weaker. In 2004, upset when BBDO ousted creative executive Ted Sann without officially notifying Pepsi first, the beverage maker moved ad duties for Diet Pepsi to Omnicom sibling DDB Worldwide. (These days, TBWA handles significant work for PepsiCo beverages.)

Yet there's little to suggest Apple sees reason for looking elsewhere. TBWA has in recent years worked to provide a deep bench of talent for the Apple account. More than 300 employees are said to work for the iPod and iPad maker, housed in TBWA's Media Arts Lab under President James Vincent and Chief Creative Officer Duncan Milner. In recent years, Apple has scored advertising hits such as the famous "silhouette" campaign for the iPod and iTunes; the clever-but-needling "Mac vs. PC" ads that took pot-shots at Microsoft; and iPad print ads that depict the tablet screens as tailored environments for different consumer demographics.

The Mac ad from TBWA that put Apple on the map.
The Mac ad from TBWA that put Apple on the map.
Together, Apple and TBWA have challenged all sorts of conventions. In 2001, for instance, the two launched a TV ad starring musical luminaries ranging from Chuck Berry to Liz Phair to George Clinton telling consumers to "Rip. Mix. Burn" their own discs using Apple technology -- and this after the record companies had gone to war with Napster. Just three years later, Apple pushed harder, giving U2 the chance to debut the rousing single "Vertigo" in a commercial for iPod and iTunes.

Mr. Jobs' role in all this is said to be dominant, according to advertising executives. He has long maintained a presence in Apple's image, design and ad presence, overseeing everything from ads for a Cingular phone that used iTunes -- produced by BBDO, which was Apple's agency of record when he initially returned from exile -- to approving the use of actor Justin Long to play "Mac" in the now-legendary ad series that had Mr. Long make fun of John Hodgman's stuffy "PC."

Apple's importance as an advertiser has ramped up over the last several years, as the company has moved aggressively from being a maker of high-end computers to reworking the music and telecommunications industries (and perhaps soon -- TV?). For the first 10 months of 2010, Apple boosted its measured U.S. ad spending by 13.6%, according to Kantar Media, to about $220.2 million from about $193.8 million in the year-earlier period.

Apple is getting more of its revenue from overseas markets. It generated 44% of worldwide revenue from the U.S. in the year ended September 2010, the first year that its home market accounted for less than half of revenue. The U.S. accounted for 52% of Apple's revenue in fiscal 2009.

Obviously an account of that size is important to TBWA, but how crucial is it to Omnicom's bottom line? An Omnicom spokeswoman said the company declined to comment on individual pieces of business. One Wall Street analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested Apple's business alone is probably not of material importance to Omnicom's financials.

In its 2009 annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Omnicom said many of its top 100 clients are served by its different agency holdings and that its largest client represented 3.1% of its revenue that year. "No other client accounted for more than 2.5% of our 2009 revenue," the company said in the filing. Apple is definitely a marquee client, the analyst said, but the company's business may be worth more in prestige to the advertising conglomerate than it is in profit.

~ ~ ~
Contributing: Bradley Johnson

Most Popular
In this article: