Apple Computers’ 1997 advertisement campaign asking consumers to “Think Different” not only sold computers, but also encapsulated the defining attitude of a new generation. In the campaign, Apple exhorts its audience to see the world differently, to rebel, and to challenge convention, all in an effort to “change things” (Apple, Inc.). The advertisement also features a number of easily identifiable historical figures, all associated with cultural, intellectual, and political revolutions. Although the advertisement’s main objective was to sell more computers, the message Apple conveys permeates American culture. Through deliberate use of culturally relevant themes, rhetorical strategies, and uninvolved media, the campaign encourages a class of rebellious consumers to “think different” in order to become historically impactful.
The campaign engages an audience of young and inspired consumers by exploiting a growing sense of rebellion and individualism in American culture. Although the advertisement was released in 1997, the campaign’s roots can be found a decade earlier among the resurgence of traditional, conservative values. Throughout the 1980s, Americans were encouraged to attend college, find a job, and start a family, a life that many Americans felt was limited. However, during the same period, a technological boom awarded many innovative thinkers with exceptional wealth and power, culminating in the creation of a class of predominantly young and optimistic consumers who believed they could single handedly change the world. By 1997, many young Americans subscribed to a rebellious and individualistic spirit, dismissing a life of conformity and participating in the opportunity to ignite cultural revolutions. The advertising campaign directly appeals to consumers who did not partake in cultural norms––or as the advertisement states, “[The ones] not fond of rules. And… have no respect for the status quo” (Apple, Inc.). This strategy enabled Apple to speak directly to a class of culturally influential and individualistic consumers. This not only created kairos, but also contributed to Apple’s innovative and rebellious image.
In addition to employing relevant cultural context, the advertisement uses a number of commonplaces to establish rhetorical appeals and effectively engage the consumer. First, the campaign evokes a sense of pathos by drawing upon consumers’ innate drive to be extraordinary in some manner. The advertisement addresses this commonplace by arguing those who “think different” are exceptional, preaching, “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” (Apple, Inc.). The campaign also establishes ethos through the video’s subjects, who the audience automatically associates with innovative thinking. These figures include Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Picasso, all of whom are universally considered revolutionary. Although the advertisement never explicitly supports the claim that thinking differently will help an individual change the world, it utilizes the commonplace that these figures were innovatively inclined and, as a result, impacted the world. This allows Apple to implicitly support their claim without spending time directly justifying the connection. Finally, by 1997, Apple Computers had established themselves as an intellectual hegemon. The company, built by perceived innovators and misfits, had become one of the largest, most influential companies in the world. As a testament to the influence ingenious thinkers can have on the world, the Apple Corporation itself had credibility. Together, the campaign’s appeal to pathos and ethos engages the consumer and establishes a clear link between revolutionary thinkers and their ability to impact the world.
In addition to evoking a sense of ethos and pathos, the campaign uses a plethora of rhetorical strategies to establish and emphasize the potential prevalence of revolutionary thinkers in modern society. The use of asyndeton prevails throughout the piece, adding to the dialogue a sense of urgency while also overwhelming the audience with the influential attributes of cultural renegades. In the beginning of the advertisement, the narrator celebrates the subjects of the campaign, proclaiming, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers” (Apple, Inc.). This enables the advertisement to overwhelm the reader with a plurality of titles for revolutionary thinkers. Later in the advertisement, the narrator declares that these individuals, “change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward” (Apple, Inc.). Together, these statements create a sense of diversity, both by establishing that innovative thinkers themselves come in many shapes and forms, but by also illustrating their diversity in impact. Through the use of asyndeton, Apple is able to convey the exceptionally large effect these individuals have on the lives of the audience while still keeping the advertising brief and easy to understand. In addition to asyndeton, the latter quote exhibits the use of an anaphora, again affirming the diverse and influential impact of these free thinkers. Moreover, the advertisement features a cliché when the campaign describes innovators as “The round pegs in the square holes” (Apple, Inc.). This is not only easy for the audience to relate to, but also makes Apple’s message––that society’s most eccentric individuals can push the human race forward––more identifiable. From the very beginning of the piece, Apple identifies the subjects of the advertisement to be those who do not necessarily conform to cultural dictates. Finally, the advertisement closes with Apple’s defiant use of correction, declaring, “While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius” (Apple, Inc.). This clarifies Apple’s embrace of these individuals, while once again appealing to a larger, eccentric audience. Through the use of these rhetorical strategies, Apple is able to connect freethinkers to innovation and emphasize their impact on the world.
Finally, Apple’s use of simple visuals and taciturn speech allows the audience to focus on the campaign’s message rather than struggle to understand the advertisement itself. The campaign utilizes brief black and white videos of well-known and respected artists, scientists, and politicians to support their claims. Although technology was more than capable of displaying brilliant, televised color at the time of the advertisement’s release, the campaign is entirely devoid of color. This simplifies the display of images, allowing the entirety of the collection to form a single cohesive appearance. Moreover, the campaign’s syntax contributes to the advertisement’s minimalistic presentation. The speech is clear and defiant, permitting the consumer to clearly understand each word and sentence. This effect is compounded through the use of brief, uncomplicated sentences, often containing fewer than four words. Together, the visuals and syntax empower Apple to create an easy to understand message, capable of reaching and inspiring a large consumer base.
Through the use of cultural context, well-crafted rhetoric, and uninvolved media, Apple is able to effectively create kairos and encourage their consumers to look past cultural expectations in order to see the world differently. Despite the advertisement’s age and outdated cinematography, the campaign carries a clear message of revolutionary thinking that is still applicable today and will remain relevant for future generations.
Apple Computers, Inc. Youtube. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 July 2015.