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Apple At 40: The Evolution Of Its Advertising From Apple II To The Apple Watch

From a 1981 homemaker to the first iPhone hello, and beyond, the brand's style and voice actually hasn't evolved as much as its products.

  • 01 /17 | "Apple II - Homemaker" (1981)

    Is Dick Cavett being totally '80s sexist in his surprise the little lady can even turn the computer on? Of course. But that last line slays.

  • 02 /17 | "1984" (1984)

    The Ridley Scott-directed classic. Considered by many to be the best Super Bowl ad ever.

  • 03 /17 | "Alan Greenspan" (1985)

    A pre-Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan offers up some advice.

  • 04 /17 | "What is Newton?" (1993)

    A gadget born before its time. This spot may sound familiar... the brand pretty much copied it for the iPad about 17 years later.

  • 05 /17 | "Think Different" (1997)

    Richard Dreyfuss saluting "the crazy ones" may be the most quoted and second-most famous (after 1984) Apple ad ever made.

  • 06 /17 | "George Clinton" (1997)

    Tough to get much cooler-by-association than the prime minister of funk waxing philosophical about power and creativity, sitting in front of a Mac.

  • 07 /17 | "Watch the Skies" (1999)

    This one's more just a reminder that even Apple can be dated. I mean, who thought a wireless router deserved its own ad?

  • 08 /17 | "HAL 9000" (1999)

    Turning Y2K paranoia into calculated cool by way of a pop cultural tech icon. Birds. Stone.

  • 09 /17 | "Hey Mama" (2004)

    The first of the brand's iconic "silhouette" spots, and one that pointed Black Eyed Peas on its way to superstardom (and, ahem, overexposure).

  • 10 /17 | "Better Results" (2006)

    Just one hilarious, early example of the "Get a Mac" campaign that ran from 2006 to 2009, starring John Hodgman and Justin Long.

  • 11 /17 | "Hello" (2007)

    I don't remember who won Best Actor, but I know when this first aired during the '07 Oscars, I had no clue how ubiquitous the iPhone would become.

  • 12 /17 | "1234" (2007)

    One of the first Nano ads, and one that got Feist deeply embedded in our brains, while ringing her cash register on iTunes.

  • 13 /17 | "What is iPad?" (2010)

    The Newton ad for a new generation. The world was ready for it this time.

  • 14 /17 | Misunderstood (2013)

    Smug tech-obsessed teen, or creative family sweetheart? This one gave everyone an aspirational excuse to hit the Apple store for Xmas.

  • 15 /17 | Misunderstood (2013)

    A fantastic use of Robin Williams' classic monologue from 1989's Dead Poets Society. O iPad, my iPad!

  • 16 /17 | "Apple Watch - Style" (2015)

    And here we are, a long way from that homemaker on the Apple II.

  • 17 /17 | "iPhone 6s - Timer"

    Right up to this month, with the ultimate celebrity cameo.

If asked to describe Apple's advertising in four words, you could do much worse than fun, knowing, optimistic, and familiar. Looking back over its long history of commercials on the occasion of the company's 40th anniversary, these characteristics remain almost always intact. Sure, "1984" and "Think Different" take themselves very seriously (as Bill Burr has hilariously pointed out), but overall the brand—with, for the most part, longtime agency partner TBWA/Chiat/Day—have used humor, breaking the third wall, and an infectious optimism to create the brand image Apple enjoys today as part jester, part genius, part benevolent corporate overlord.

It's on days like this that provide an excuse to delve into our Apple feels, figure out when and how it first burrowed into both our brains and pop culture. Of course its products—innovative, beautiful, intuitive—had a lot to do with it. But so too has the personality the brand has built around those products. In the slide show above, we take a walk down marketing memory lane, to stroll through some of the company's most memorable ads, from Apple II to Apple Watch. Whether you're a hater or a fanboy (or just a hater of fanboys), the unequivocal fact is Apple's success has as much to do with advertising prowess as well-designed products.

Related: The History of Apple in Under 3 Minutes