The Best Client I Ever Had

By Lee Clow Posted on Feb 23, 2012

“This is shit. I hate it. What else do you have?”

He always told us what he thought.

He could see the future. He saw how technology was going to change our lives, and then he invented the products that did just that.

He loved technology.
He loved design.
He loved products.

He also loved advertising.

When you talked to him about advertising he knew the history.

Bill Bernbach.
Volkswagen. (Lemon.)
Polaroid. (Garner & Hartley)
Avis. (We Try Harder)

He demanded that we do advertising that was smart. Advertising that was artful. Sometimes he liked advertising that was funny. And sometimes we were David and “the competition” got to be Goliath.

He always wanted to do advertising that was talked about.

What the advertising would say and how it would look was not decided by focus groups or sales people or dealers or bottlers or the latest “Chief Marketing Officer.”

It was decided by Steve.

He met with us, every week.

The process was exhilarating and intense. High-spirited and maddening. He didn’t have much patience for “marketing strategy decks” or audience research presentations. He said, “We all know where we’re going, now we can spend all of our time arguing what is the best way to get there.”

Every detail was important. We’d examine every cut of every TV spot. He’d say, “That scene was better before,” even though we had only cut two frames off it. We spent a half an hour one day deciding the best shade of grey for the restroom signs in the Apple Stores. (And yes, the scene was better with two more frames on it.)

“Do you think it’s great?” was always his question, his challenge.

People ask all the time, “How can we be more like Apple?” and I have to say, “You can’t.”

Like so many of the things Apple has done that other companies admire but can’t duplicate, Apple and its brand was built with a vision, an understanding that a brand has to believe in something and measure everything the brand does against that core passion.

In 1981, Steve said to me, “Our ads have to impute something about Apple.”

“Impute”—where’d he get that word?

Recently I learned that that word, that idea was told to Steve by Mike Markulla at the early beginnings of Apple. That everything a brand does should impute something about the brand.

That’s why everything that Apple does, from the evolution of its logo, to a package, to the curve on a product, a billboard, a newspaper ad, a TV commercial, or a store, they all “impute” who Apple is, what it stands for.

His intuitive understanding of how a brand should behave and his unwillingness to delegate any of the decisions the brand makes to a “manager” or a “department” is why Apple has become one of the purest brands in the world.

He worried about everything, every day.

Even in the middle of the night, he’d call and say, “You know what? That copy isn’t great, that image isn’t perfect, we’re not saying the right thing. Let’s do it over.”

“But Steve we’re out of time.”

“That’s your problem.”

Wow. What an amazing, wild ride.

What a glorious challenge trying to capture his passion, his genius, and present his life-changing gifts to the world. To do work that he decided was “great.”

It was the most fun I ever had in this business. He demanded we do things we didn’t know we could do. He made everything and everyone who worked with him better. I’m sure I’ll never experience anything like it again.

There won’t be another one like Steve Jobs any time soon.

I will miss him. We all will.


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