Thinking Different During COVID: How 7 Brands Channeled Apple’s Timeless Mantra

5 minute read

September 28th, 1997. Just 90 days from bankruptcy, Apple debuted its iconic “Think Different” campaign. This deceptively simple—and grammatically unstable—approach changed the company’s trajectory forever.

Created as a response to IBM’s slogan, “Think,” the campaign aligned Apple with history’s most revolutionary thinkers. The ads featured a rainbow-striped Apple logo and simple black-and-white photographs of those who thought differently, the “crazy ones” – such as Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr., and Yoko Ono.

It was accompanied by the now-famous “To the Crazy Ones” commercial, which included a voice-over that reads:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

There is no question that Steve Jobs himself was one of these people. In Jobs’ own words, “some people say you have to be a little bit crazy to buy a Mac. Well, in that craziness we see genius and that’s who we make tools for.”

The campaign went on to win multiple awards and played a key role in one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in history. Today, Apple is worth more than $2 trillion dollars, and a call to “Think Different” can still be found on the box of the iMac.

It is a call that has never rung quite as true as it does in the face of a global pandemic.

In the spring of 2020, as COVID-19 brought the world to a screeching halt, businesses scrambled to adapt. With social distancing rules in place and a strict lockdown enforced across the globe, businesses were forced to be innovative, and to “think different.”

Here are a few brands who did it best.

1. Zara

Known for their creative product styling, Zara did not disappoint in the face of a pandemic. Zara quickly adapted to lockdown restrictions by having their models take photos at home. The models took on the roles of stylist, art director, photographer, and more for these at-home photoshoots. The resulting photos were true to the brand’s authentic and minimalist style, and certainly like nothing that had been done before.

2. Burger King

Donning a Burger King crown is nostalgic for many people, but as restrictions began to lift in Germany, the classic paper crown became a mode of COVID prevention. On Instagram, Burger King showed off its new “social distancing crowns” – massively wide crowns to encourage patrons to stand at least six feet apart. Playful and pandemic-friendly, the crowns encouraged other companies to get creative while social-distancing.

3. Ikea Russia

For once, Ikea’s instructions were a source of joy and not hair-tearing frustration. Just as parents were running out of ideas for ways to entertain their stir-crazy children, Ikea released six instruction manuals on how to build blanket forts using everyday materials. Complete with classic Ikea illustrations, these manuals showed kids (and kids-at-heart) how to transform books, chairs, and tables into houses, tents, or even castles.

4. DoubleTree by Hilton

For more than 25 years, DoubleTree by Hilton hotels has been greeting their guests with a warm, chocolate chip cookie at check-in. So, for those who decided to take up baking during quarantine, DoubleTree by Hilton decided to unveil its recipe for the famous, gooey, chocolate chip cookies they offer guests. Although many people have attempted to replicate the cookies over the years, this is the first time the hotel chain has released the official recipe, along with a step-by-step video on how to make them.

5. Cheeky Food Events

Event services of all kinds took a dire hit as lockdown restrictions were enforced. Cheeky Food Events, an Australian company that offers corporate team-building activities oriented around cooking, were forced to rethink their entire business model. Not missing a beat, the company shifted to delivery-based catering to employees working from home. Ingredients were delivered safely to employees’ homes, where they could follow a live web stream of a chef showing them how to prepare the meal. This allowed workplaces to carry out much-needed team-building activities, while Cheeky Food Events still put its resources to good use.

6. Fitbit

As gyms closed and people were ordered to stay indoors, Fitbit noticed that activity levels were severely dropping. In response, the wearable fitness brand offered 90-day free trials of its Fitbit Premium and Fitbit Coach services. The premium service includes more than 150 workouts and the Fitbit coach allows users to stream workout videos on phones or computers. Fitbit’s customers will likely remember the brand’s generosity when they next have to choose between a Fitbit product and a competitor.

7. Goat2Meeting

What better way to spice up a boring Zoom call than with a guest appearance from a goat? California-based animal sanctuary, Sweet Farm, used to generate a chunk of its funding from in-person visits. To win back some of that funding as lockdown rules fell into place, its founders started Goat2Meeting: a service where companies can pay to have a goat, llama, or other farm animal appear on their work call to relieve the monotony. The idea was a huge success, with over 300 requests in the first month and appearances in video calls for Fortune 500 companies and tech start-ups.

At the end of the day

For many companies, innovation is a priority that—although sought with the best of intentions—is often lost in the incessant stream of everyday tasks, or a perceived need to “play it safe”. For Apple, however, it was an irrefutable dedication to innovation, even when it seemed crazy, that took Apple from a company on the verge of bankruptcy to the $2 trillion-dollar giant it is today. In the end, imaginative business in the face of a pandemic (or even simply the mundanity of everyday business) is what will set you apart.

Does your business need a fresh look? Let us “think different” for you and help you stand out. Chat with us about your options.

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