Working with Steve Jobs — Reminiscing with Apple’s “1984” TVC copy writer


 Steve Hayden

In 1979, Jay Chiat moved me from Los Angeles to New York to open Chiat/Day’s first office in the big city. Just a few months later, Jay did a deal with Regis McKenna to acquire the advertising unit of his primarily PR-focused firm in Silicon Valley, thus bringing the Apple Computer account into Chiat/Day, San Francisco.

Jay and Steve Jobs seemed to get along right from the start. Even though Jay had a good 25 years on Steve, they were birds of a feather — perpetually dissatisfied perfectionists who could be brutal to their employees but always brought forth amazing work.

Since I’d come to Chiat/Day from a series of jobs at small industrial agencies in LA, I had quite a bit of tech experience. In fact, at one point I worked on ads for the very first microcomputer: the Altair.

For their launch campaign, I suggested we use the apple as a symbol of knowledge and stress how versatile a small computer could be. I forget the name of the client, but he said, “First of all, I just want to focus on business applications. Secondly, this tiny new company showed up at the Home Brew Computer Club in San Jose last week calling themselves Apple Computer. They’ll probably be out of business in six weeks, but we should probably stay away from apples in our ads.”

Jay asked me to work on Apple from New York under “deep cover.” I wasn’t supposed to put my name or writer’s number on any copy I submitted. I worked on a series of print ads with Hy Yablonka in San Francisco, while Jay went on a recruiting hunt for “a writer Steve Jobs will like.” Basically, having just moved me to New York, he didn’t want to pay to move me back to the West Coast.

Six months went by, and we got a lot of ads produced. I even wrote a TV campaign featuring Dick Cavett, a celebrity that had been contracted by Regis McKenna. Steve was happy with the copy, and Jay was having trouble finding the right writer to replace me. So finally he relented. Steve was coming to New York for a computer show, and Jay decided to let me out of the closet to meet him.

I believe the show was in the New York Hilton. Lots of little booths for lots of tiny companies. An industry in its infancy.

Smokes and Bach

The first thing Steve said to me, noticing the pack of Marlboros in my pocket, was, “Jay says you’re smart. If you’re so smart, how come you smoke?” The first thing I said to him was, “There’s something about computing that reminds me of Bach.” Right then, one of the displays caught on fire — some equipment shorted out and the booth’s curtains went up in flames, the floor filled with smoke, and shortly thereafter, NYFD guys were there with big tanks on their backs.

Later that evening, Jay and I met Steve and Regis at the Four Seasons for dinner. Regis was almost fatherly to Steve, explaining the difference between secretaries and hookers and where he should shop when he got back to San Francisco. Jay was very excited about the potential of the account. In their first year, they spent $10 million at full commission. Their second year, $40 million. And now Steve was talking about spending $100 million — An astronomical sum that would make Apple the largest account in the agency.

Jay had been struggling to build Chiat/Day into a national agency for 25 years and it looked like he was finally going to do it. I remember Jobs turning toward him and saying, “You know, Jay, Apple Computer didn’t happen overnight. It took three years.” I did an involuntary spit take.

Working with Steve was the challenge of a lifetime. He had taught himself design, fashion, style, pop culture and, of course, bleeding-edge tech. He could be notoriously short-tempered and mercurial. As Bill Kelley, a friend of mine who worked on Apple at Regis McKenna, told me, “If you were 100 IQ points smarter than almost anyone you ever talked to, you’d be irritated a lot of the time, too.”

What ‘1984’ Created

Between Jay and Steve’s perfectionism, it’s a wonder we got any work approved at all. The night before we presented “1984,” Jay was dissatisfied with everything we had to show. I remember we were meeting on the second floor of a dowdy Travel Lodge somewhere near the Apple campus and Jay was tearing up the room, the ads, the people in the room, the drapes, everything. When he got like that, only Lee Clow could calm him down. He took Jay out onto the balcony while we creatives cowered in the room, put his hand on his shoulder and told him it would be OK. It was.

We got approval to produce everything we showed.

After Steve saw the first rough cut of “1984,” he said, “This spot is going to create an information vacuum that we have to fill. I want an insert — maybe 20 pages — that tells people everything about the Macintosh there is to know.”

One of Apple’s producers, I think it was Steve Scheier, said we didn’t have time to pull off a 20-page insert because of printing, lead times, closings, etc. Steve didn’t care. “Just do it,” he said. I’m pretty sure that was before Nike’s use of the phrase.

From Apple to IBM
Years later, after Steve’s return to Apple, I was working on IBM at Ogilvy. IBM had just come out with a very attractive all-in-one computer called the Aptiva. We were very proud of it. I ran into Steve at some computer show and asked him what he thought of it.

He said, “Well, I guess it’s OK on the outside in a kind of typical way, but what really bugs me about it is that it’s ugly on the inside. Have you looked at the motherboard? It’s a mess.” And that pretty much captures his whole aesthetic. Beauty can’t be just skin deep. It has to go all the way down, even where no one will ever see it.

Steve may be leaving his day job at Apple, but his spirit will never leave the building. We’ll see it in every new Apple product for at least a generation.

(ABOUT THE AUTHOR Steve Hayden was the copywriter for Apple’s famous “1984” spot and today serves as vice chairman at WPP’s Ogilvy.)


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