Since Apple debuted almost 40 years ago, the image of people hunched over their Macs has been a sight that’s ingrained into our culture. Whether you’re in a café or library, or even watching a scene from a movie, the Mac has become an iconic symbol of creativity—and that’s where the “Behind the Mac” campaign gets its inspiration.

Initially branded as the computer for the “average person on the street”, the computer quickly became the go-to choice for creative minds who were hell-bent on challenging the status quo. Almost four decades later, the brand continues to push the envelope and challenge what creativity means.

If you think about the brand, for many, Apple is a brand that they aspire to own. It’s not something that you buy if you’ve arrived and are looking to put your feet up and relax. The machines they make are more like utility belts or sketch pads, all aimed at people who are trying to get the job done.

This is what Apple is trying to sell and the “Behind the Mac” campaign relies on its celebrity partners to help do that. But before we get into it, let’s take a look at where it all started—when Apple decided to ‘Think Different’.

Inspiring creatives since 1997

When it comes to iconic marketing campaigns in history, Apple is on the shortlist—and it’s all thanks to its “Think Different” campaign. When it launched in 1997, the campaign’s purpose was to change the way people thought about the company and did that by approaching design and technology in a new, innovative way.

The historic Apple campaign kicked off with print ads featuring famous thinkers and innovators like John Lennon, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King Jr., with the tagline “Think Different” plastered on it. What was unusual about the ads was that they didn’t feature a single Apple product. Instead, it just encourages viewers to think about Apple’s values.

Even as early as 1997, when the campaign came out, Apple’s focus was on creating an emotional connection. By featuring renowned thinkers and innovators, Apple targeted the values and aspirations of consumers. It became a company that wanted to share its consumer’s desire to change the world.

Why it worked

It’s simple. While every other competitor bombarded consumers with technical specifications and features, the Apple campaign approached things in a way that resonated with consumers who were tired of the cookie-cutter campaigns and products.

They didn’t just become about a product. It was the feeling of pride to be one of Apple’s loyal supporters because consumers felt that they were part of a larger movement that was changing the world.

Once the campaign took off, there was no stopping Apple’s trajectory and instead of just inspiring a global movement, they inspired generations of innovators and entrepreneurs to think differently.

This was the starting point to something that has snowballed today and has embedded its essence in Apple’s other campaigns, like the one we’re about to get into right now.

The ‘Behind the Mac’ campaign—and its global impact

The campaign has one mission—to inspire everyday Mac users to act on their passions and create something incredible. In essence, they want to shine the spotlight on the next generation of innovators and creators who are doing extraordinary things behind their Macs.

From the United States to the UK, Canada, and Australia, the campaign has unfolded across countries to show how their homegrown celebrities are hard at work on their Macs. If you haven’t seen the campaign videos, here’s a bit of background.

Campaign launched in the United States

The commercial shows icons like Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks and journalist and activist Gloria Steinem working hard on their crafts. When it comes to personalities like Hanks and Steinem, no one would question if either one of them decided to take it easy—simply because they’ve put in the work and paid their dues over the years. 

But that’s not what Apple is selling and it’s certainly not how these figures or any of the other famous personalities are portrayed in the campaign.

The campaign tries to show that for all the successes they’ve achieved, they’ve also faced tough times and setbacks that have shaped their journey, making it a Hero’s Journey where Apple will be there for every moment—both the good and the bad.

A local twist in the Land of the Rising Sun

The success of the Mac campaign didn’t just create waves in the United States. Apple Japan also took the campaign and added a local twist showing anime characters using Macbooks.

The campaign uses a range of animated movies and TV shows including Sgt. Frog, Weathering With You, Mr. Osomatsu, Mirai, and My Teen Romantic Comedy to name a few. While some of the Macbooks featured in the Japanese campaign had a more authentic feel using the Apple logo, others took a different approach and used some cheeky alternatives.

One of the reasons for using alternatives? Well, it turns out that Apple products can’t be featured in any type of media. ‘Knives Out’ Director Rian Johnson revealed that Apple has some strict guidelines about how their products are used on-screen with restrictions like TV show and movie villains being prohibited from using their iPhones. So don’t expect your favourite Bond villain to be brandishing an iPhone on-screen anytime soon.

Let’s look at one more campaign

The same campaign was rolled out in Canada but focused exclusively on Canadian musicians and the impact they’ve had on the global music scene.

The 30-second video features artists like Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Daniel Caesar, and a host of other musicians, songwriters, and professionals in the industry using their Macs. The Canadian website for Apple even went one step further and created a page where they have more information about the artists that were featured in the campaign.

But aren’t we getting tired of seeing celebrities?

Yes. That’s why many brands are featuring “real people” in their campaigns. Using celebrities is great if you’re a brand like Apple which has millions dedicated to marketing campaigns, but today, the majority of people aren’t really interested in celebrity culture. After all, how much can these multi-millionaires relate to the average Joe?

Perhaps understanding this—and following the successes of other brands, Apple shared a new video as part of the “Behind the Mac” campaign titled “Test the Impossible”. The video shows students working on fashion, photography, and even programming where they’re testing the impossible and pursuing their creative passions.

The video focuses on selling an experience, inspiring consumers to roll with the punches and change their state of mind by trying to do the impossible.

What’s next for the ‘Behind the Mac’ campaign?

The campaign is something that’s been happening since its launch in 2018 with the latest video being released in 2020. For all intents and purposes, the campaign is an ongoing one and there’s no reason to believe that the campaign has fizzled out—Apple could be planning a new video right now!

But until they do, there is a lesson to be learned.

‘Don’t wait for greatness. Make it happen.’

It’s a statement that’s relevant to consumers and businesses, especially since what we’ve known as marketing and how we’ve built connections with clients is always changing.

Brands today aren’t going for the hard sell because it’s a surefire way to alienate consumers. Being the loudest in the market isn’t going to get you anywhere either. It’s all about the experience you create and the emotional connection you’re willing to make with your audience that will get them over the line.
Take a page out of the book of brands like Apple. It’s time to lock away the traditional marketing campaigns that were popular decades ago and focus more on how to build brand awareness and loyalty through meaningful interactions with your products and the lifestyle they offer.