Apple's Original Brand Strategy: Get Ahead of Atari in the Phonebook

Even Apple's historical archives are stashed away in a top secret location: a climate-controlled warehouse somewhere on the outskirts of San Francisco.

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Even Apple's historical archives are stashed away in a top secret location: a climate-controlled warehouse somewhere on the outskirts of San Francisco. Compiled by Stanford University thanks to countless donations from former Apple employees, the collection is full of everything from the company's original financial records to an anti-IBM Ghost Busters spoof. The video, cleverly named Blue Busters, was shown in Hawaii at an international sales meeting in 1984 and yes, it's on YouTube. (See the bottom of this post.)

Stanford's Apple Collection is the largest in the world, the Smithsonian branch devoted to all things Macintosh that fanboys and girls never had. But if you remember that Apple invented the computer as we know it, it bears broader implications. "Through this one collection you can trace out the evolution of the personal computer," Stanford historian Leslie Berlin told the Associated Press, who were offered access to the collection but "agreed not to disclose its location." Berlin adds, "These sorts of documents are as close as you get to the unmediated story of what really happened."

We may never know what the most treasured treasures in that secret warehouse, but bits of it, like the Blue Busters video, have leaked out over the years. The AP transcribes the key moment of another internal video, in which Steve "the Joker" Jobs and Steve Wozniak discuss how they came up with the name. There are many fables about this, including one account about Jobs working on an Apple farm in Oregon, but this account seems basically believable. From the AP's Terence Chia:

"I remember driving down Highway 85," Wozniak says. "We're on the freeway, and Steve mentions, `I've got a name: Apple Computer.' We kept thinking of other alternatives to that name, and we couldn't think of anything better."

Adds Jobs: "And also remember that I worked at Atari, and it got us ahead of Atari in the phonebook."

Over the course of the next couple of decades, Apple's branding strategy evolved far beyond just beating Atari in the phonebook. Apple, it could be argued, beat Atari altogether and is now one of the top gaming platforms in the world. Many know about the company's many trademark disputes with Apple Corps, owner of the Beatles' label Apple Records, which became particularly problematic when Apple launched the iPod. Now, of course, you can buy the entire Beatles' discography in the iTunes Music Store. And while the 1980s saw a number of failed efforts to make the brand hip, that silhouette of a piece of fruit that made Apple famous to begin with will surely be remembered as one of America's simplest but most powerful logos. If we could spend a day in Stanford's Apple Collection for any one reason, it would be to trace the evolution of the brand over the years, from the early days of the boxy but adorable Macintosh to the latest craze for the sleek simple design that gives every single Apple product that Steve Jobs signature look and feel.

It wasn't always like this. As the Blue Busters video shows, Apple used to be pretty nerdy. Since we couldn't actually gain entrance to the Stanford's Apple Collection (yet!) we spent our Thursday morning poking around the Internet, looking for Apple brand porn, and thanks to Google, came up with our own Atlantic Wire Apple Collection. It's small for now, but we'll add to it as we discover treasures.

A couple of weeks ago, Sotheby's sold the original 1976 contract, signed by Stephen G. Wozniak, Steven P. Jobs and Ronald G. Wayne pictured above for a cool $1.6 million. Wait. Who the heck is Ron Wayne? He's the guy that backed out of Apple only 12 days after the company was founded.

Apparently, Apple took a swing at the apparel and trinket business with the 1983 Apple Gift Catalog. We're pretty sure it was just a way to get their brand out there, you know, developing a personal connection with Apple customers. But we're also pretty sure, we'd pay $100 for one of those suckers, for fashion's sake.

Look at that tie tack. And the belt buckle!

And the (very expensive) wall hanging, above.

Apple sponsored a car in the 1980s LeMans race. The gift catalog offered an artist's rendering of the car.

It's a Porsche and obviously shoots flames out the back.

Finally, behold: Apple salesmen with Macs strapped to their backs, fighting IBM with ectoplasm laser guns.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.