It’s all in the DNA, says the man who helped Steve Jobs rebrand Apple in the 1990s.
Think Different was the campaign slogan, not ‘Think Differently’. There’s a subtle but vital difference. It was 1997. In California, Steve Jobs had recently returned as CEO to the company that he co-founded 20 years before. Peter Economides was in Manhattan – Head of Global Clients at TBWA – one of the world’s top-ten most influential global advertising agencies.
Jobs had ordered the creation of an advertising campaign that reflected his philosophy for Apple: the Think Different campaign was the result.
While the first iMac was months away and long before iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad were even a glimmer in his eye, Jobs wanted to reinforce, both to his staff and the world, what Apple meant – what its DNA was made of. And behind that simple, deceptively clever advertising slogan, was a poetic call to arms.
The narration to the accompanying TV commercial – spoken over images of John Lennon, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and other visionaries – struck a chord so profound, that it resonates to this day:
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…
Because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world… are the ones who do.
The Think Different campaign reinvented Apple. It laid the foundations for the company that in 2012, is the largest publicly-traded corporation in the world, with an estimated value of US$ 626 billion. To ensure the campaign would run seamlessly around the world – spreading its message of rebellious non-conformity with absolute integrity – Steve Jobs gave the task to TBWA and Economides.
Speaking from his home in Athens – on the eve of his much-anticipated presentations in Australia – Economides says the experience of working with Steve Jobs taught him one crucial lesson: how any brand has to be true to itself. “I had the job of checking to see the campaign and the applicability of the line ‘Think Different’ around the world, making sure it was relevant globally,” says Economides.
“When I spoke to the Brits about it, they said ‘over our dead bodies, it’s grammatically incorrect.’
“In Japan they said that they didn’t want to be seen as different, and that’s because Japan is a very homogenous society, but Steve Jobs’ response was, ‘well, that’s the way we speak in California’.
“And that’s a very insightful response, because any brand has to be true to its DNA,” says Economides emphatically.
The parallels with Greece’s current need for reinvention – a subject close to Economides‘ heart and one he is regularly invited to speak about around the world – jump out, for this highly articulate and much-travelled Greek South-African. “Taking that through to Greece today, we feel under pressure to become ‘northern European’ because that’s the defining dialogue in Europe today”, says Economides, who has lived in Athens for more than a decade.
“Well, we’ll never be good Germans, we have to become exceptional Greeks. We have to be true to who we are.
“The experience of working with Steve Jobs taught me, is that if you have a strong belief in who you are – if you don’t get the brand right – there’s no direction, there’s no guideline on what the product should be like.
“This was the big lesson for me of the Apple experience. The only thing we did was reignite the DNA of Apple, we became true to ourselves.”
Economides’ traces his own DNA back to Asia Minor. His grandparents migrated from Imbros. Brought up in the family home in Johannesburg, he studied Business Science at university in Cape Town.
Founder of the Felix BNI global branding agency in Athens, Economides is a former Executive Vice President and Worldwide Director of Client Services at McCann Erickson. His journey through the world of advertising has taken him across four continents via Hong Kong, Greece and Mexico to New York, and just as the 20th century closed, back to Athens. It’s no overstatement to say that that his work has impacted consumers almost everywhere.
Economides’ last visit down-under was in 1995, when he was responsible for marketing Coca Cola worldwide. Nearly 20 years later, he arrives on Australia’s shores to share amongst other things, his vision on a more complex, less effervescent global brand: Greece.
“A brand is nothing more than a set of impressions that people have in their minds, but what I’m talking about is a nation’s reputation, what the nation thinks about itself and what the world thinks about it,” says Economides.
“In terms of Greece, when I talk about it as a brand, it’s the social psychology of the nation that I’m really concerned about.
“This is not about creating an ad campaign. It’s all about how a nation behaves, in the collective sense”.
Global brand strategising is what Economides will talk about in his Australian presentations.
As he has done in the United States and Canada, he will also talk about why Greece has to change how it is perceived – not just externally to the world, but to Greeks themselves – and how it should go about it.
“A brand is the result of everything you say and do, and everything you don’t say and don’t do, by the way,” he says.
Economides believes at the root of Greek society today is a lack of a sense of the collective – a sense of the whole.
“We tend to be fierce individualists, which is a wonderful quality. It’s exactly what let us succeed around the world. But in Greece itself we’ve allowed politicians and the corrupt few to determine what this nation is all about,” he says.
“Rather than deal with politicians responsibly we’ve tended to say ‘ach, let them go about doing what they do, and I’ll go about doing what I do.’ ”
Despite having to cope with the current day-to-day challenges produced by painful economic reforms, Economides believes the Greek body politic is ready to embrace and endorse a new vision for the country, – a process he says must happen for change to occur.
For someone whose life’s work has been to motivate consumers and transform people’s behaviour through images and texts, Economides says that it’s important to look at how the mass media has instilled an image of Greece historically. And it’s an image that he say needs retuning.
In the US when speaking at a conference last year, he famously remarked that it was “time to park Zorba and be more Apolllonian”.
“If you think about Greece’s image around the world, it got frozen in time with the image portrayed of Greece in the 1960s: this very glamorous black and white world of islands and Mykonos, Onassis and Maria Callas, and this character called Zorba,” says Economides.
“I’m not talking about Kazantzakis’ book, I’m talking about the image of Anthony Quinn on the sand when Alan Bates says to him ‘will you teach me to dance?’ And Quinn’s response is ‘did you say dance?” Economides impersonates Quinn’s Zorba as he theatrically delivers the punch line.
“I think we need to park that a bit,” he says quietly, back in his own voice.
“This is something I’ll be talking about in Australia”. Going back to the Apple experience, it’s all about DNA, he says.
“I feel that this Greek love of life is actually where our know-how resides, but the issue is how to create a value-driven proposition based on this know-how of life. We need to be able to monetize it more effectively.
“This is where nation branding begins. It’s about how we feel about ourselves, how we define ourselves, what our narrative is.”
The role of the diaspora and how to make the global Greek network more effective says Economides, is key to changing perceptions of Greece internally and externally.
“The nation has become so disconnected with so many things. It needs to realise it’s a global community, not just the Greeks in Greece.
“Greece is 11 million people, or 20 million people globally, that’s what it’s all about”.