The handing off of the Apple brand and the inside history of CKS Group/USWeb/marchFIRST
An insiders account of the agency history that defined an era
"Historical, a wonderful piece." -Bill Cleary
The history of Apple Inc. is not just a chronicle of a design company but a tapestry of innovation, branding, and ingenuity. A significant chapter in this history involves the formation of CKS Group by Bill Cleary, Tom Suiter, and Mark Kvamme, and their influence on the Apple brand.
Why They Left Apple
The decision for Cleary, Suiter, and Kvamme to leave Apple was not just a career move; it was a strategic pivot to exploit an untapped market in branding and marketing within the design industry. At Apple, they had honed their skills and developed a deep understanding of what made the Apple brand resonate so powerfully with consumers. Recognizing the potential to leverage this expertise more broadly, they ventured out to establish CKS Partners.
Founding CKS Partners
CKS Partners was more than just a new business venture; it was a visionary step to redefine identity of the brand. They brought with them not only their individual talents but also an intimate knowledge of Apple's brand ethos. This combination proved potent, and CKS quickly made its mark, securing various high-profile clients, including Apple itself, ironically making them custodians of the brand they once helped build from within.
While CKS Group/USWeb/marchFIRST played a role in the "Think Different" campaign, it's important to acknowledge the collective effort that made the iconic initiative a success. CKS’s contribution, though significant in its own right, was just one part of a larger collaborative endeavor. Focusing on complementing and enhancing the core message of Apple's vision, bringing their expertise in design and digital strategy to the table. However, the campaign's triumph was truly a result of the harmonious blend of creativity, innovation, and strategic thinking from all involved, including the visionary leadership at Apple, TBWA\Chiat\Day and the talented individuals across various teams. This synergy was what ultimately brought "Think Different" to life, leaving a lasting impact on the industry and consumers alike.
The Irony of Success and Expansion
As CKS Partners flourished, it attracted merger opportunities, first with USWeb and then with Whittman-Hart, leading to the formation of MarchFIRST. This expansion, while a testament to their success, also sowed the seeds of future challenges. The once agile and focused CKS Partners became part of a much larger, more unwieldy entity. This rapid scaling brought organizational complexities, diluting the founders' initial vision and control.
Organizational Challenges and Power Struggles
The mergers led to a tangle of power struggles and leadership challenges. Cleary, Suiter, and Kvamme found themselves navigating a corporate maze of differing visions, operational styles, and strategic objectives. The irony was striking: as they sought to expand and dominate the market, they found themselves struggling with the same brand identity challenges they had previously resolved for their clients.
The Dot-Com Bubble Burst and Its Aftermath
The dot-com bubble burst was a reality check for many tech companies, a tale deprived of real revenue models and this came down hard on marchFIRST. The bankruptcy of marchFIRST in 2001 was a dramatic downturn from their once-lofty ambitions. It laid bare the vulnerabilities of rapid, unchecked expansion and the perils of losing sight of one's core competencies in the pursuit of growth.
The Full Circle Return to Apple
In an ironic twist of fate, the aftermath of marchFIRST's collapse saw the last people standing handling the Apple account returning to the company. This return was more than just a professional homecoming; it was a reaffirmation of their intrinsic value and understanding of the Apple brand. They came back not only with their original expertise but also with invaluable lessons from their ventures and the design industry's turbulent landscape.
The journey of Bill Cleary, Tom Suiter, and Mark Kvamme is a rich narrative of ambition, strategic foresight, and the unpredictability of the design industry. Their story from Apple to CKS Partners, through the tumultuous times of marchFIRST, is a vivid illustration of how the tech world's dynamic nature can bring about full-circle moments, laden with both irony and profound professional insights.
Knowing the CKS history of the Apple brand is a requirement for every designer joining the company looking to make improvements and I wanted to get this history into your hands in time for my interview tonight with Marc Hemeon.
7pm PST - Set a reminder: https://darius.design/live
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