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Ken Segall: The apple of his ‘i’

"The 'i' is my career moment."

‘I tend to quote Steve Jobs a lot, so you’ll have to forgive me …’

Indeed, Ken Segall, a personable and quietly spoken American former advertising agency boss and current author, refers to the late Apple boss almost habitually.

It’s hardly surprising. For twelve turbulent years he worked hand-in-glove with Jobs, in his role as creative director of ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day. It was Segall and his team who, in 1998, proposed that Apple’s new genre-busting desktop computer should be called the iMac.

It was his team, too, which devised the Think Different advertising campaign that not only catalysed Apple’s sales, but also permanently reconfigured the idea of celebrity endorsement in advertising.

Jobs, by the way, hated both ideas. Through their years of working together, however, some degree of trust built up between the ad guru and the tech wizard. Influence, it turned out, flowed in both directions.

‘The iMac was originally called the C1 computer. That was the code name,’ said Segall. ‘That stood for “consumer one”. It was the first product Apple was making upon Steve’s return and he wanted it to be the symbol of all things to come.’

So the device, from the get-go, had to serve two purposes. The first was to spearhead the company’s new assault into the home computer market. The second was to trumpet the message that Jobs was back in charge, and it was a new day all round.

The stakes were very high. Unknown to Segall when he sat down to pitch potential names to him, Jobs had already decided that the launch of the C1 would be accompanied by the scrapping of most of the company’s existing range. The new device wasn’t an addition to the line-up. It was its replacement.

‘The concept behind the C1 was that it made it easy to get on the Internet,’ said Segall. ‘In those days, it wasn’t that easy. It’s one of those things that makes you feel old when you talk about it.’

The key feature of the machine was that it did away with the cumbersome business of linking to an external modem, manually dialing in, and shaking hands with an Internet provider. All of these functions were replaced by a simple click-and-go system.

‘Knowing that, then iMac was one of the first names I thought of, to be honest,’ said Segall. ‘It was the Internet version of the Macintosh.’

Jobs disliked it immediately. Over the next couple of weeks, however, he changed his position. He realised that the name served several functions, all of which accorded with his driving principle in both business and design – simplicity.

The use of ‘Mac’ as an abbreviation was new – short and punchy, a nuanced separation from ‘Macintosh’. The ‘i’ nominally represented ‘Internet’, but served equally to suggest ‘imagination’, ‘independence’, ‘integrity’ and a whole bunch of other positive brand values.

‘The “I” is my career moment,’ said Segall. Indeed, it defined everything that came after. No longer in the cut-and-thrust of agency life, Segall these days blogs and advises tech companies. He also has a successful book: Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success.

Just quietly, he misses Steve Jobs. ‘He basically did the right thing,’ he said. ‘He had a vision, he would proceed to execute on that vision, and he did not compromise.’

Ken Segall is an Adjunct Professor in Marketing on the Deakin MBA. He is sponsored by The Bank of Melbourne. 

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