The man who put the 'i' into iMac

Steve Jobs launching the game-changing iMac in 1998.

Steve Jobs launching the game-changing iMac in 1998.

For 12 years, Ken Segall worked closely with Steve Jobs, in his capacity as creative director of ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day.

It was Segall's team that devised the Think Different campaign. It was his team, too, that came up with the name "iMac".

The name – for a new model computer with the working title C1 – was innovative in two ways.

The first was that it truncated Macintosh, making it snappier and, arguably, hipper. The second was that it bunged 'i' at the front, establishing a brand lineage that now encompasses pads, phones, pods, photography and content delivery.

It's ironic, thus, that at the first presentation Jobs thought it stank.

"When I presented the names to Steve, iMac was one of five," remembered Segall.

 "I look at the other names now and I wonder what the hell I was thinking. But at the time we thought they were kind of cool.

"We had walls filled with ideas. iMac came up very early because it was logical."


"I remember two others. One was Mackster , which was sort of a rip-off of Napster, the music-sharing site that was pretty controversial at the time. The other one was Mac Rocket. One of Steve's parameters was that it should have the word Mac or Mackintosh in it, because he didn't want everyone thinking it was something absolutely brand new."

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Jobs was not impressed. (For the record, he hated the Think Different idea as well.) He had preferred name for the C1, which, frankly, baffled his advertising guru.

In setting the brief Jobs insisted that the name should not suggest portability, the original iMacs being pretty hefty beasts. Neither should it imply that it was a frivolous invention, best suited to playing silly games.

It was odd, then, that the tech genius advocated "MacMan", a name that simultaneously evoked the period's iconic portable device, the Walkman, and its most popular computer game, Pac Man .

"I can't stress how much he liked it," recalled Segall. "It was awful and it was sexist. If it harked back to Sony and the Walkman, he said, what was wrong with that? So all we could do was go back and try to come up with something better. Which we did. Hence the five names. He didn't like any of them."

Undeterred, Segall's team went back to their offices and then returned with three new alternatives. They chucked iMac back on the list again, too, because they were fond of it. Time was running out. The production run was set for less than a week and the groovy new machine was still nameless.

"That time, Steve looked at the name again and said, 'I don't hate it this week, but I still don't love it'. There were just two days left. Then I learned that after that meeting he had the name silkscreened onto a model of the computer and showed it around his inner circle. That convinced him to go with it."


It was a huge gamble. The launch of the iMac marked the rebirth of Apple not just in marketing terms but also in terms of its product lines. As the new computer hit the market, the bulk of Apple's existing products – including Newtons, Power Macintoshes, and PowerBooks – were junked. Jobs had regained control of the company and, as Segall noted, wanted the world to know.

The 'i' as a brand signifier for Apple products these days sits seamlessly in the self-centric psychology that governs the online world. Back in the day, however, it stood first and foremost for " internet ". The key selling point of the iMac was that it was the first computer with an internal modem. The whole device was geared to getting users onto the internet with a minimum of fuss and calibration.

"We made a big deal about defining what the 'i' was when it was introduced," remembered Segall.

"It's funny how things change. It's funny how quickly that all got forgotten. I talk about simplicity: we put the 'i' on there and we go to all this effort to explain why the 'i' is an important thing, and you realise a few months later that we didn't really need to get into all that. It's just an i."


Yes, but what an 'i'. Segall happily admits that the 'i' was his "career moment".

"I tend to quote Steve Jobs a lot, so you'll have to forgive me," he said. And, indeed, his later successful incarnation as author , consultant and blogger is largely predicated on his previous relationship with the Mac Man.

As well as advising several other tech companies about their advertising needs, he has also written a bestseller called Insanely Simple: the Obsession that Drives Apple's Success, and is working on a sequel.

It has been perhaps a canny shift in activity for the former ad agency boss. He facilitated the birth of the iMac, which, in turn, enabled the eventual development of a social media mediated world where every consumer is broadcaster and conventional advertising, as a result, is now less useful than an ashtray on a motorbike.

"Word of mouth is the thing and social media is the way," he said. "It's just far more effective when I tell you I love my new iPad than when you see an advert from Apple telling you that you're going to love your new iPad. Who are you going to believe?"

 - The Age


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