Q&A: Ken Segall

The author of Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success tells Lucy Handley about working with the brilliant but belligerent Steve Jobs at the world’s most valuable brand.

Ken Segall

Marketing Week (MW): Apple is worth $183bn according to BrandZ’s list of the world’s most valuable brands. Why is it so successful?

Ken Segall (KS): Because it makes simple products. It is able to make simple products because it has a value of simplicity that permeates from [the late] Steve Jobs.

Rivals try to compete with Apple’s by launching copies of its products, but they would do a lot better if they tried to copy the company that creates the products.

Apple is generally good at just saying one thing and not getting involved in all the specifications [of a device] and minimising what it does. This is shown by the small number of products Apple makes compared with the number of products other companies make. Just by making those few products, Apple makes more money than all the other companies combined.

All these companies that want to be like Apple say ‘why don’t we just be more like that?’ But they don’t, they just stick to what they do and say they are good at it and that their customers depend on them for 8 billion choices.

MW: How can companies apply the concepts of being insanely simple?

KS: Steve Jobs had this thing about acting like a start-up. He wanted to have this entrepreneurial spirit, and did everything to hold on to that spirit. But if you are a company like a Sony, which has hundreds of product, simplifying that is a big problem.

Being insanely simple can only come from the top. It doesn’t have to be a Steve Jobs kind of figure but someone who can create change.

All the time I was at Dell’s agency we [thought we were] going to change things – and then the reality starts hitting you that the culture there doesn’t really support that kind of simple thinking.

iMac

MW: Apple doesn’t research its advertising campaigns before they run. Why is this a successful approach?

KS: If you are running a really big global company, people say that you have to do research. Steve didn’t believe in that and not only did it not damage him, it made Apple what it is.

It amazes me that senior marketers at companies like Intel are very competent, smart people who feel qualified to direct the agency every day, but for some reason aren’t able to look at five ads on the table and say ‘this is the one that we should run with’.

They take their two favourites and test them in six countries and in several cities and have a research team put together a report to tell them what to do. That never happens at Apple.

MW: Steve Jobs wanted to call the iMac the MacMan. How did you convince him otherwise?

KS: Steve Jobs was an absolute genius, the most amazing person you could ever hope to spend time working with and learning from. But he wasn’t god; he made mistakes along the way with several Apple products that flopped.

It is the same thing with MacMan, which seems so preposterous today. If that became the format we could have had a PhoneMan, a PodMan and a PadMan. It was hilarious and astounding that we even had to battle with that name.

At the time of naming the iMac, Apple wasn’t yet a consumer electronics company. It was all computers – there was no iPod yet. So Steve thought it was kind of cool to have that Sony-like feel [MacMan being reminiscent of Sony’s Walkman].

Week after week we couldn’t beat MacMan and he still preferred it to iMac [which Segall came up with].

After the final meeting I was talking to someone at Apple and he said Steve was having the name iMac silk-screened onto his model and was showing it around to his closest advisers, so suddenly it was just iMac.

MW: The book talks about a time when Steve Jobs wanted to get several messages into one TV ad. How did you persuade him to stick with just one?

KS: We [the agency Chiat Day] said we should make the big feature the main point of communication but Steve didn’t seem to be wavering from his opinion that there were five things he wanted to say in a 30 second TV ad.

And that’s when Lee Clow, the chief of Chiat Day was moved to conduct an experiment. He crumpled up one piece of paper and tossed it across the table to Steve, who caught it, and Lee said: “That’s a good ad.” Then he crumpled up five paper balls, tossed them at Steve and they all went bouncing all over the place. Lee said: “That’s a bad ad.”

So that was a fun demonstration of the fact that you want to throw one ball when you advertise and not try to make people remember five things because then they will remember nothing. You have to condense your message.

new ipod

MW: Is Apple more open now that Tim Cook is running the company?

KS: I haven’t really noticed that. There is some new stuff, like Tim Cook deciding to pay dividends. It was interesting that Tim took the trip to China to visit the Foxconn factories [which make Apple products] involved in that controversy [which saw Foxconn heavily criticised for its working conditions].

I can’t see Steve ever doing something like that – he would have said: “We do good things and you just have to take our word for it. We are taking care of this internally.”

Tim invited in impartial observers and they gave a somewhat damaging report, which led Tim to say that Apple is now going to invest and make these things right.

MW: What is Apple’s future without Steve Jobs?

KS: Steve, especially in his last years, really tried hard to institutionalise the values that he had built. He started Apple University, which dedicates itself to archiving all his speeches, and it has a whole programme to make sure all the execs and those below are steeped in the culture and understand what it is that makes Apple different.

There was only one Steve and it can’t be the same without him. But there was only one Walt Disney and Disney probably floundered for a while after he left, but they found a groove. I have known those people and I think they really embrace the values and won’t let that slip.

Disney ended up buying ABC TV. I don’t think Walt ever dreamed that Disney would be in the broadcasting business and yet there was an opportunity decades after he died to do something like that. Who knows what opportunities Apple will face in 20 years, there will be things that Steve Jobs could never have imagined.

Steve went back [as CEO in 1997] and during his 15 years there, there was one revolution after the next. There is so much buzz and anticipation for every Apple announcement now. [Chief executive] Tim Cook and his team are well aware that if they don’t innovate they won’t succeed.

Real-time reader responses

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@shopfrontagency What non-technology sector is crying out for a simpler approach?

Ken Segall: It is an organisational thing. Any business would benefit from the principles that drive Apple, such as trusting smaller groups to make decisions and hiring smarter people.

Steve once threw someone out of a meeting [because there were too many people in it]. The Apple boardroom had a very long table and Steve had started talking. He stopped and said: “Who are you?” to a woman at one end. She said: “I’m so and so” and he said: “We don’t need you in this meeting, thank you.”

Steve would say: “Do we really need all those people to express their opinions, it will take three times as long as it should – and why would I really care about that opinion?”

I hate to sound like an arrogant person, but you have got to make progress and that is really hard when you have so many opinions and people interacting that don’t need to interact – and it is expensive because you have to pay people to do that.

The real story

Apple beat Google to the top spot of BrandZ’s most valuable global brands list last year. This year, it is valued at $183bn, beating IBM into second place at $116bn. Google is in third place at $108bn.

But while Apple continues to dominate this list, it will be thinking about life after Steve Jobs, its founder who died last year after battling with health issues for several years. His biography talks about his plans for a television, thought to be launching later this year, in conjunction with Sharp. It will need to name it – and calling it iTV will create a problem in the UK because of the clash with the broadcaster, which reiterated its concerns this February.

Ken Segall, former creative director of Apple’s agency Chiat Day, suggested the name iVision while consulting at Apple, but it remains to be seen what the new product will be called, especially since Jobs’ attitude towards naming and legal challenges was bullish.

When facing the fact that Cisco had registered the name iPhone, Jobs decided to ignore his legal team and Cisco and go ahead with the launch anyway. In response to Segall telling him that Apple’s lawyers had some problems with advertising copy comparing Apple and Intel, he said: “Fuck the lawyers.”

The challenge for Apple will be how to continue to be one of the most talked about and valuable companies in the world without the belligerent but brilliant Steve Jobs.

Apple’s ten elements of simplicity

Ken Segall was creative director at Chiat Day, the ad agency that worked with Steve Jobs from 1997 to 2000. And a consultant to Apple for three years from 2005. His book, Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success talks about ten elements that make Apple what it is.

Think brutal “I really like the TV you’ve been doing. The print is really shit,” was one of the first things that Jobs said to Segall after he rejoined Apple in 1997. I didn’t think of Steve in terms of being nice or mean, approving or disapproving. He was simply being straight with me.

Think small How many overpopulated meetings do you sit through during the course of a year? How many of those meetings get sidetracked or lose focus in a way that would never occur if the group was half the size?

Think minimal Steve Jobs looked at pretty much everything with the idea of cutting it down to its essence, whether it was a new product or new ad. He had an instant allergic reaction to any suggestion that might add a layer of complication.

Think motion Steve Jobs did not tolerate big-company slow processes. Instead of running an agency review, Jobs quickly hired Chiat Day and produced and ran the ‘Think Different’ campaign.

Think iconic The Think Different ads were a vivid reminder that a single iconic image can be the most powerful form of communication. Apple did not have to splinter its marketing dollars to run a brand campaign in addition to a product campaign. It had only one campaign.”

Think phrasal Steve wasn’t about to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to an outside expert to come up with a name for Apple’s new desktop computer, which was eventually branded the iMac, probably out of fear that he’d get product names like Quadra and Performa – computers that were sold by Apple during his years of exile.

Think casual Steve liked the atmosphere in the room to be such that he could put his bare feet up on the table if he felt like it. Which is something he really did do.

Think human If Steve Jobs believed so deeply in the power of simplicity and simplicity is such an important part of being human, why was he such a maniacal tyrant? If you are really looking for evidence of Steve’s humanity, you only need look at what he created.

Think sceptic Headlines such as “Sorry, Steve: Here’s Why Apple Stores Won’t Work” were published. But Segall says Apple was sceptical of those who were sceptical of its chances and no force on earth would keep the company from believing in its retail plans. There are now 350 Apple stores around the world.

Think war “We could really get sued over this,” said Steve. “And that might not be a bad thing.” He was looking at a giant image of a snail carrying on its back what was then the fastest Intel chip powering PCs. Creating a war with Intel, as Apple did, was a very effective way of getting people to focus on one thing – taking Macs seriously as a PC alternative.

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