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Former Apple ad man Ken Segall on Steve Jobs, simplicity, and why an Apple car wouldn't be so crazy

Caitlin McGarry | June 8, 2016
Ken Segall wrote the book on how Apple simplified its business to become the most successful company in the world. Now he has a follow-up: Think Simple.

One was the introduction of the first iMac. Back in those days, the Internet wasn’t quite as widespread, so we did spreads in newsweeklies and magazines. We had a 16-page spread that was going to be in Time and Newsweek. We were ready to print and I sent Steve the pre-version of it. There was this blue color on the iMac, it was on the computer and the keyboard. He thought the blue on the keyboard in this one shot was inaccurate, that it wasn’t the right color blue. When I got the two photos together, no one on earth would have ever seen the difference. We were using the photo provided to us by Apple, but Steve thought we were ruining the launch of the computer because one photo on one page had a slightly wrong blue. He was crazy over it. He was red-faced angry. It’s a perfect example of him becoming angry due to his passion for perfection.

The funny ending: Once we got over that, we changed the photo, and a couple weeks later I got a phone call from him, a very quiet version of Steve complimenting me and the agency because he had seen the insert that was in the magazine, and he saw the billboards, and he saw the TV commercial, and it was all so beautiful he thought it was the best launch in the history of Apple and the history of computers. In the back of my head I could hear him screaming at me because we had ruined the launch of the computer.

He was a passionate man, and these stories out of context make him seem crazy, but it was very exciting. These things were the seeds of the modern Apple, and just to be part of that was a remarkable experience and certainly the greatest experience of my marketing career.

When you hear rumors about products like an Apple Car, does that seem out of character for the company? Would a car be an example of Apple losing its way?

I have to confess that when I first heard the rumor, I had a similar reaction. But it’s very much like Apple going into the phone category or the music player category. Apple had never made anything but computers before, so iPod was a big shock when it happened.

Every time they come up with a new product, I wonder if there’s anything left to disrupt. Cars are very much like phones. Other than Tesla, no one is really blowing people away in terms of design and usability. The concern I have is the timing of it. If it’s not gonna happen for four more years, Tesla will have that much time to get better. The competition in the category will be stiffer than it was when Apple entered music players or phones. But I do think it’s a cool idea and I would be very eager to see what kind of car Apple would build using the philosophy that’s been at the core of every product they’ve made.

 

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