Apple through the ages: 20 best Apple ads of all time

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We’ve all seen an Apple ad at some point, which means they’re clearly doing something right.  In 2017, the CNBC All-America Economic Survey reported that an overwhelming 64% of Americans own an Apple product.

As consumers, we know a good advert when we see one. It’s imperative for brands and their marketing teams to produce adverts that can make us laugh, smile, think, or cry in just a matter of minutes. Apple’s victory in this is what makes them the marketing giants we know today.

If you’re looking for some marketing inspo, or fancy a trip down memory lane, take a look at our collection of the best Apple ads of the last 45 years.

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1. High Technology, Inc. – 1977

Said to be the first Apple advert ever, it’s a no-brainer that we’ll be kicking off the list with this one. Though created by a local computer store named High Technology, Inc., and not Apple themselves, it’s the first time the world saw an Apple product on their screens.

In classic 70s fashion, the ad is overloaded with a wacky ‘beep boop’ soundtrack and robotic voice over, showcasing all the things the Apple II can offer (between subliminal flashes of apples), from teaching oneself arithmetic, to balancing cheques, to inventing your own pong games.

2. Two Kinds of People – 1983

You’ve heard of Penn and Teller, Thelma and Louise, and Itchy and Scratchy, but before that, we had Kevin and Lisa. That’s Kevin as in Costner, and the Apple Lisa computer who came before Macintosh.

This advert is the perfect example of the very foundations of Apple’s most well-known marketing tactics: division and celebrity. Starring a young Kevin Costner as an everyday businessman, Apple begins establishing it’s own identity in the tech world with the tagline, “Soon, there will be just two kinds of people. Those that use computers, and those that use Apples.”

3. 1984 – 1984

This list wouldn’t be right without this classic Apple ad. Directed by Ridley Scott, this 1984 inspired advert became one of the most famous ads of all time after it was aired at the 1984 Super Bowl. So memorable, in fact, that it made it into our roundup of best super bowl ads.

In keeping with Apple’s growing theme of division, the ad features an unnamed heroine, who we can only assume is representative of Apple. She stands out amongst the dystopian masses, pioneering a breakdown in control from the higher power. Thus, further enriching Apple’s aim to empower themselves in the face of conformity.

4. Pencil Test – 1988 

What’s the only animation company in the world that can make us fall in love with a sentient pencil? You’ve got it, it’s Pixar.

Teaming up with Apple in 1988, world class animators collaborated with the tech giant to produce Pencil Test – a short film that showcases the capabilities of the Apple Macintosh II’s animation software.

Just after his resignation from Apple in 1985, Steve Jobs purchased the graphics division of Lucasfilm, creating Pixar Animation Studios. Which begs the question – was Pencil Test the first in a long line of beloved Pixar Shorts?

5. The Quadra Revolution – 1991 

As the digital age of the 90s begins to trickle in, it’s time for Apple to shift gears with advertising to establish themselves further amongst competitors. And what better way to separate yourselves from other tech brands than creating a … car advert?

Displaying the classic conventions of a car ad – beautiful landscapes, screeching tyres, and pure speed – it’s a wonder that this piece didn’t make it into our best car ads article.

However, at the end, the story unfolds as we discover it’s actually just a man watching a video on his Macintosh. This subversive narrative was revolutionary to a 1991 audience, and a proverbial one-up on competitors.

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6. Dinosaurs – 1992

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for…the peak of Apple’s division tactics.

This advert features just one of the times Apple went straight for the jugular with its competitors (particularly Windows). We see a dad try to fulfil his son’s wishes of seeing some dinosaurs on the computer, only for this to prove quite difficult.

“Loading CD-ROM into Windows.” Says the dad, with a quietly frustrated sigh. Ultimately, the child leaves in a hurry to go to his friend’s because they have a Mac. Quintessential Apple.

 7. Mac vs Ordinary PC – 1993

While we’re on Apple’s cut-throat approach towards its competitors, we give you the Mac vs Ordinary PC ad.

Taking a blunt, no-nonsense approach, this classic Apple ad continues to establish themselves as a revolutionary and contemporary brand that goes against the grain, drawing a direct comparison between their own features and those of an ‘ordinary PC’.

They finish the advert with a quick and concise tagline, “It does more. It costs less.” – simple!

8. Mission Impossible – 1996

We’ve mentioned Apple’s cinematic approach to their adverts before, but this is really what we mean. In 1996, Apple partnered with Mission: Impossible, providing Ethan Hunt with all the tech he’ll ever need.

The PowerBook ad, starring Tom Cruise as Hunt, is a compilation of footage pulled from the first installment of the franchise that features Apple’s products. This is a perfect example of Apple’s continuing relationship with celebrities and how they utilize it for powerful advertising.

9. Think Different – 1997

Continuing to certify themselves as the standout brand, Steve Jobs’ return to Apple inspired a change in direction which conjured the 1997 ad and future slogan, Think Different.

The ad features a compilation of B-roll footage from some of history’s greatest thinkers: Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Albert Einstein, and Gandhi. The ad highlights that the creative minds are the ones that change the world, and Apple’s products are here to serve those minds.

10. 3 Steps – 1998

Apple knew what they were doing here … who can resist Jeff Goldblum’s charm? Not us, especially when he’s telling us how to set up an iMac G3. 

It was at this point in the late 90s that Apple were becoming more domestic. Families were looking to kit out their houses with computers as the world shifted into the digital sphere. So, they recruited Jeff Goldblum to instruct us with two easy steps on how to set up the iMac, only to collapse into laughter at the prospect of there being a third instruction. Because why should anything Apple make be so complicated?

This ad strikes a particular sense of nostalgia with Millennials. We spent our afternoons after school watching Malcolm in The Middle and dreaming of having one of these iMacs in our bedrooms. The real Millennial dream.

11. Hal 2000 – 1999

Remember Y2K? Well, Apple decided to play on it in their 1999 Super Bowl commercial with Hal, who some may recognise from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

If you can remember that far back, you would know that the world was up in arms about, well, nothing. But the theory was that software wasn’t programmed for the turn of the millennium. And so, as the clock struck midnight, all computer systems would fail.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen.

In the commercial, Hal speaks about Y2K in a universe where the millennium bug theory came true, ensuring Macintosh were the sole survivors due to being “designed perfectly”.

12. Silhouettes -2003

ipod advertising

The great iPod influx kicked off in the early noughties with the pinnacle of Apple advertising, the infamous Silhouette tv ads.

Another perfect example of Apple collaborating with different media sectors, each advert features a unique song by artists available on the iTunes store.

Jet’s Are You Gonna Be My Girl? Is among the most memorable, generating sales of 3.5 million copies of their first album Get Born.

This colourful campaign ran through to 2005, promoting all members of the iPod family, including the iPod Mini, iPod Shuffle, even the iPod Photo.

13. There’s An App For That – 2009 

Ah, finally, we’re in iPhone territory.

In 2009, Apple launched an iPhone campaign with a shiny new slogan, “There’s an app for that.” This slogan made its mark when it became a famous internet meme and the title of a Sesame Street song.

This is when Apple began to establish the iPhone as more than just a phone, it’s a map, a parking spot locator, and somewhere to check your emails.

14. Misunderstood – 2013

It’s the early tens and the age of the high production Christmas advert is upon us, ready to warm our bellies and leave us all feeling a bit teary-eyed.

So, Apple stepped in and did it best, with their TV advert Misunderstood winning a Creative Arts Emmy for ‘Outstanding Commercial’.

In 2013, Apple released Misunderstood, a TV spot in which a teenage boy seemingly has his head in his iPhone during a holiday family gathering, only to reveal he’s been editing a heartfelt family movie which he debuts on Christmas Day.

Like the Think Different campaign, this advert doesn’t focus on a product. It shows us that Apple goes beyond a piece of technology and plays a part in our everyday lives by capturing and creating memories.

15. Get a Mac – 2006 – 2009

Warning: another name drop incoming.

Spanning across four years, the Get a Mac campaign boasts a whopping 66 TV ad spots featuring actors Justin Long as a personified Mac and John Hodgman as a PC. In each ad, they act out a brief vignette in which Long compares the attributes of the Mac to that of Hodgman’s PC.

This simple, yet relentless attack campaign charmed our TV screens from 2006-2009, with the plain white background and Apple’s famous ‘plinky plonk’ music shaping their brand for most of the noughties. 

Honorable mention: the UK aired their own version of the campaign, starring comedy duo David Mitchell and Robert Webb.

16. Romeo and Juliet – 2016

Bazz Luhrmann, who? We only know the iPhone 7.

A worthy entry on our list of best Apple ads, this sweet advert features a mini Romeo and Juliet in a surprisingly cinematic rendition of the famous balcony scene. The ad then cuts to an emotional father in the audience, revealing that we are simply watching a school play through his eyes … or iPhone 7.

The advert implies that the iPhone 7’s camera quality is unmatched, echoing Apple’s sentiments in Misunderstood and There’s an App For That, stating that the Apple iPhone is so much more than just a phone.

17. The Rock x Siri Dominate the Day – 2018

We can’t think of a better way to show off Apple’s new and improved virtual assistant than with the world’s highest paid actor. 

In this high budget Apple ad/short film, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson shows us that it does, in fact, matter what your name is (that one’s for the wrestling fans). Especially if your name is Siri.

During this masterpiece, we see The Rock and Siri team up to take on the day. Together, they order a Lyft, fly to Rome, and pop to space for a selfie, showcasing Siri’s vast improvement since the days of “Hey, Siri, who let the dogs out?”. 

18. Whodunnit – 2021

Apple premiered this Hollywood-inspired advert at WWDC21, demonstrating the new iPhone 13’s cinematic mode. In light of this, Apple did what Apple does best and recruited French film director J.B. Braud to create Whodunnit, shot entirely on the iPhone 13.

You only had to be awake in 2019 to see where Whodunnit drew inspiration. The first hint being in the first 10 seconds of the ad where we see that the typography bears an uncanny resemblance to that of 2019’s finest hard-boiled crime drama, Knives Out

We love the power of a font, so check out our top 10 best fonts for ads for a bit of background.

Much like the Think Different campaign, this ad taps into the creatives, showing aspiring filmmakers what they can create with iPhone 13.

19. 911 – 2022

In a simple 1-minute advert, Apple exhibited the value of the Apple Watch by creating an ad that relies mainly on audio. The advert plays three individual 911 calls from people in emergency situations, all made on the Apple Watch. 

The heart-pounding video continues Apple’s mantra of going against the grain, and  that the Apple Watch’s features go beyond just a piece of technology – they can save lives, too. 

For more of our favorite video adverts, check out our 13 best video ads.

20. Start Up – 2022

Whether it’s the click of the iMessage keyboard, or the alarm that startles us awake in the morning, Apple users are familiar with their trademark chimes and tones. 

In an ode to their products, Apple teamed up with music producer A.G. Cook, who took the sounds from Apple’s 45-year catalog of products and combined these elements to create an original composition. 

The audio is the main event, but the video aids its brilliance by revealing that the song is composed of only Apple sounds. No mixing, no fillers, just the authentic click of an AirPod case.

Have a listen and see how many sounds you can recognise.

Final Thoughts

And we’re back in 2023. 

From this extensive list of outstandingly high quality Apple ads, we can see how much work goes into each advert. And it’s fairly obvious why Apple is up there with the greats when it comes to marketing.

How to finesse your own marketing process

In global companies like Apple, there are necessary layers of approval in the process which can take weeks for the final product to filter through.

With marketing approval software like Filestage, this process can be sped up, giving teams a hub to share, edit, and discuss content all in one place, allowing those creative juices to flow and produce the best-of-the-best content. 

Who knows, you could have the next Pencil Test on your hands.