Every major Apple ad campaign, ranked (pictures)

Apple has always been a world class publicity ninja. Here are 15 of the Cupertino company's iconic advertising wins.

Jefferson Reid
Jefferson Reid is a writer, author and editor who was worked for NBCUniversal, CBS, AOL, Yahoo! and many others.
Jefferson Reid
1 of 16 Apple

Apple's campaigns: All the best

When it comes to ads, Apple almost always nails it. Even the online Apple Store wins advertising awards; it recently nabbed a couple of Clios, the ad game's top honor.

In fact, it could be argued that even Apple's brick-and-mortar (glass-and-sheetrock?) stores function as a live ad campaign. For most of their existence, the stores' endlessly queuing fans lined up around the block for the iWhatever have served as a brilliant form of free advertising.

More recently, Apple has moved away from the long-lines-as-PR strategy, but the store's signature storefront continues to serve as a not-so-subtle ad for its Jony Ive-driven product look. That's why we're putting the stores on this list, at No. 15.

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14. All those product placements

Have you noticed that you can't watch a TV show or movie from the last two decades without seeing a prominent product placement for an Apple product? Product placement experts sure have, crowning Apple with accolades such as Brandchannel's Brandcameo Product Placement Awards.

Per Brandchannel, Apple products appeared in nine out of 35 movies that topped US weekend box office in 2014.

3 of 16 CNET

13. MacBook Air

Leave it to Apple to fat-shame all the other laptops with its "World's Thinnest Notebook" TV spot, in which the brand new (in 2008) MacBook slid out of a practically two-dimensional manila envelope, to the tunage of Yael Naim's hit "New Soul."

And when we say hit, we mean the song became a hit after the MacBook Air ad aired, because that's a vital part of Apple's musical ad mojo: Boosting musical careers for talented lesser-knowns (along with iTunes -- ka-ching!).

4 of 16 Apple

12. Apple Watch launch

The Apple Watch launch, of April 2015, was a prime example of the way the tech company lets anticipation build for a long-rumored product.

The slow build enabled a two-pronged campaign strategy. First: early design kudos such as the iF Design Award and the Red Dot "Best of the Best" Award. Second: the cool, relatively low-key TV and online ads featuring eclectic folks Apple-Watching it in idiosyncratic ways.

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Apple Watch launch: Seriously effective

The campaign was so effective that it drowned out complaints of an early bug, in which the fitness sensors proved unfit to work for those with tattooed wrists (like the beverage-gulping bicyclist pictured here).

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​10. iPod Nano and Shuffle

Small is beautiful, but it was also a big deal when the teeny iPod Nano promised (and delivered) "a little video for everyone" in 2007.

A memorable TV ad from the campaign featured singer Feist's "1234," with her video playing on a stack of Nanos as one hand after another snatched each away, like a yummy piece of musical candy.

Another established member of the iPod extended family, the Shuffle, gave consumers a chance to "Wear your music on your sleeve" and won an Ad Age magazine creativity award in 2007, despite the long shadow cast by the high-profile video of cousin Nano.

7 of 16 Apple

11. There's an app for that

Before everyone went totally ape for apps, Apple was all over that. The 2009 "Thanks a Billion" campaign featured a print ad and a custom animation for The New York Times.

It celebrated a billion downloads from the app store, which was nice. But it was also a brilliant, longer-term way to build and sustain an apps ecosystem.

8 of 16 Apple

9. What's on your PowerBook?

Combining everyman appeal and celebrity zing, the "What's on Your PowerBook" campaign was another Apple prize winner, landing the ad industry's Clio award for combined TV, print and billboard campaign in 1993.

The TV spots featured regular folks explaining everything they did with their PowerBooks. The print ads were more celebrity-oriented, with stars like musician Todd Rundgren or NFL legend Art Monk sharing a page with quirky lesser-knowns. The ads always closed with this oddly comforting bit of tech existentialism:

"What's on your PowerBook is you."

9 of 16 Apple

8. Switch

Reality TV was exploding in 2002, with the early success of shows such as "Survivor" and "American Idol." Apple's Switch ads (shot by award-winning filmmaker Errol Morris) were right in touch with the times, with "real people" explaining why they switched from PC to Mac.

One charmingly loopy teenager's story of her school paper getting eaten by her PC grabbed everyone's attention, making Ellen Feiss an instant Internet meme. (Yes, they had memes back then -- much respect to Hamster dance).

If your ad campaign creates a viral celebrity, it's a big win, especially if the campaign also moves the needle for your product, which, by all reports, it did.

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7. Shot on iPhone 6

If you can win awards with user-generated content, you'd be a fool not to. And the wise folk at Apple know this firsthand, because their "Shot on iPhone 6" campaign just won the 2015 Outdoor Lions Grand Prix Award at Cannes.

Gathering photos and video from 162 users worldwide, Apple posted more than 10,000 installations in 73 cities and 25 countries to score the prestigious award.

11 of 16 Apple

6. Get a Mac

The hilarious mano-a-mano computer nerd smackdown featuring Justin Long ("I'm a Mac") and John Hodgman ("And I'm a PC") got laughs AND put its ideas across (Macs crash less, are more intuitive, have fewer viruses, and so on). You can watch 'em all here.

The series won the 2007 Effie Award for most successful marketing campaign and was named one of the top ad campaigns of the 21st century by Ad Age.

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5. Think different.

Your old high school English teacher probably didn't like this campaign (Shouldn't it be think differently?), but pretty much everybody else did.

Using iconic images of cultural heroes, the print campaign featured inspiring non-conformists including Einstein, Picasso, Martin Luther King, Jr., Amelia Earhart, John Lennon and many more. The ads gave everyone who saw them a case of the warm fuzzies, which may be why the campaign won the 1998 Effie award.

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4. The crazy ones

The campaign’s accompanying TV commercial, "The Crazy Ones," won an Emmy for best commercial.

Montaging the heck out of classic images of oddball geniuses from the Think Different campaign, the one-minute TV ad also offered the inspirational voice-over of Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss:

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels... Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."

14 of 16 Apple

3. Silhouette

Throwing shade, but in a good way, the iPod silhouette campaign debuted in 2003 with dancing shadow people clutching their blinding white iPods against brightly colored backgrounds.

The graphically arresting animations were set to pumping, upbeat tunes (available on iTunes, natch) by then unknown musicians such Jet, who rocked Pod-ville with "Are You Gonna Be My Girl."

Once again creating new markets and new hits to go with their new products, Apple managed to come across as less of a company and more of a feeling.

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2. 1984

Generally regarded as one of the greatest spots of all time, the "1984" Super Bowl ad introducing the Macintosh tried to help the world escape a totalitarian future where one cookie-cutter computer (the PC) induced conformity and stupification. At least to hear Apple tell it.

This freaky Orwellian nightmare, mixed with images of faux socialist-realist propaganda, probably scared the bejeezus out of middle America's Johnny Sixpack as he watched the big game, but it also got Monday-morning quarterbacks talking around the water cooler. Mission accomplished.

1998 'Bondi Blue' iMac G3
16 of 16 CNET

1. iMac/Colors

Yum! In 1998 and 1999, Apple created a product and a campaign that many credit as saving the company. The initial campaign itself cost more than $100 million. But the all-in-one, plug-and-play product itself was so well designed and so adorable that it was an ongoing advertisement.

Not to mention that it birthed the whole fad of slapping an "i" in front of seemingly every subsequent Apple product (hello iTunes, iPod, iPad and iPhone). Initially, the little "i" stood for Internet, just as the Web was exploding into the mainstream. But Apple honcho Steve Jobs always hastened to add that it also meant individual, instruct and inspire, too.

It was also Steve Jobs’s first big product launch since he and Apple reaffirmed their vows post-messy-'80s split. So in that sense, it was also an iDo.

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