Jan 12

The man who gave Apple its voice

Attention: Apple fans. While you weren’t looking, one of your biggest heroes just retired. Steve Hayden left his position as Vice Chairman of Ogilvy in NY.

If you have to ask “Steve who?” you’re missing an important part of Apple history.

Steve Hayden is the man who created the modern voice of Apple. He started out creating many classic Apple II ads, before any of us had a clue why we’d want or need a computer. Then he worked on the launch of Macintosh.

With just one ad, Steve qualified himself for the advertising Hall of Fame. He’s the guy who wrote 1984.

1984, of course, is widely regarded as the greatest commercial ever made. Not just for Apple, but for anyone. It’s the spot that turned the Super Bowl into an advertising showcase. It also had people lining up at stores the following day to see Macintosh for themselves (since they didn’t see it in the commercial itself).

But the launch of Macintosh was much bigger than 1984. There were other great ads, like Manuals, that showed the stark philosophical difference between Macs and PCs. And of course Steve is the guy behind “The computer for the rest of us,” one of the most perfect theme lines ever written.

To write like Steve, one must be incredibly smart and incredibly funny. He was (and is) the master of “intelligent wit.” You couldn’t stop yourself from reading every word he wrote, whether it was a one-paragraph ad or a 20-page magazine insert.

When I started writing Apple ads, I had it easy. The tone and personality had already been established — and Steve was the one who did the establishing. From practically nothing, he created a personality for the young Apple.

Every writer who has created an Apple ad since is following in Steve’s footsteps. That intelligent wit is alive and well today in Apple’s TV ads, print ads, billboards, in-store posters, even its manuals.

Shockingly, Steve discovered that there was life after Apple. He moved back to the east coast to take on the marketing responsibilities for IBM at Ogilvy NY, and did remarkable things for that brand for over 15 years.

Those are the big things for which Steve will always be admired. He also did one vastly smaller thing that I will forever appreciate. He hired me. Despite the fact that I had done little to prove myself worthy, Steve thought it made sense to sign me up. Either that, or he desperately needed a body and figured I couldn’t screw things up too badly.

To this day, when people ask me who my favorite advertising writer is, my instant answer is “Steve Hayden.” Honestly, I never had the urge to write like David Ogilvy or the standard industry legends. I just wanted to write like Steve.

There’s one more thing that makes Steve’s career worth celebrating. On top of all his business accomplishments, he’s a genuine human being too. He always supported those who worked for him and never took credit for their work. There are way too few Steve Haydens in this world.

By no means have you heard the last of Steve. Personally, I’m hoping that he writes a few books. He could tell some amazing stories about the birth of Macintosh. (He’s already written some mesmerizing articles about those days, including this one about the creation of the 1984 commercial.)

The only downside is that if Steve writes a book, you’ll have to finish it in one sitting. Hard to imagine you’ll be able to put it down.

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  • Scott

    Thanks for the history lesson Ken. Great read as always.

  • donna j.

    You never fail to amaze me – now I can say that I learned something new today!

  • Harish

    Yes. 4 Cheers to Steve. He definitely deserves more than the standard 3!!