Apple Should Think Differently about Suing over ‘Tick Different’

3 minute read
| Editorial

Apple is going to court again, this time in Switzerland. Cupertino is going up against Swiss watchmaker Swatch because of the timepiece manufacturer’s latest advertising slogan, “Tick Different.” I’m sure you all immediately recognize the reference – Apple’s 1990s “Think Different” ad campaign. Cupertino launched a salvo against Swatch last week with the Swiss Federal Administrative Court, according to Watson.

Think Different vs. Tick Different

Is Swatch just poaching Apple’s slogan with this advertising campaign? (Image Credit: Swatch)

The History of ‘Think Different’

Ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day came up with the idea that Cupertino was devoted to always “Think Different” when Apple was struggling. The slogan ran alongside black-and-white photos of famous visionaries from 1997 until 2002. One of the spots, voiced by Richard Dreyfus, even won an Emmy in 1998. The ad series went on to win the 2000 Grand Effie Award for the most effective campaign in America.

Gandhi in Think Different

Apple’s “Think Different” campaign featured images of visionaries like Mahatma Gandhi (Image Credit: Afflictor.com)

What About ‘Tick Different’?

Yes, it’s true that the two phrases are remarkably similar. Swatch CEO Nick Hayek says it’s all a big coincidence. The new slogan, Mr. Hayek says, actually dates back to the 1980s advertising campaign featuring the phrase “Always different, always new”.

Personally, I think that’s a load of horse puckey. This isn’t the first time Swatch has moved in to nab up one of Apple’s catch phrases.

For that matter, the two companies have been at each others’ collective throats for years. The Swiss company attempted to block Apple’s trademark application for “iWatch” in the United Kingdom. The company claimed the name was too similar to Swatch’s existing “iSwatch” mark.

The companies have also argued over the phrase “one more thing” within the past two years.

It’s From a TV Show, not a Steve Jobs Keynote

In 2015, Swatch beat out Cupertino in a trademark dispute over the phrase “one more thing.” The late Apple CEO famously used that to preface a surprise announcement at a keynote event. The Swiss watchmaker correctly argued that the phrase was actually coined by the television series Columbo. Swatch used the slogan to advertise a collection of film noir watches.

‘There Is No Such Thing as a New Idea’

In Mark Twain’s autobiography, the author mused about where inspiration comes from. His argument stressed the idea that a “new idea” wasn’t really possible. According to Mr. Twain, the sheer amount of knowledge mankind already possessed made such a thing impossible.

here is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.

Give It a Rest, Cupertino

I’m all for protecting intellectual property, but sometimes you just gotta let it go. Yes, there’s a striking similarity between “Think Different” and “Tick Different”, but only in terms of pace and construction. The meanings are completely different, pardon the unintentional pun.

Cupertino stressed in their use of the slogan that they were innovating and thinking “outside the box”. Meanwhile, Swatch is implying that their watches are different – and they are. Nobody can argue that a Swatch timepiece is similar to the Apple Watch. The watch market is the only arena in which the two companies actually compete for attention.

This is one of those instances where Apple is within its rights to protect its trademark. However, that doesn’t necessarily make it right. Cupertino hasn’t really been using “Think Different” in the last seven years. Yes, it’s been included in the box packaging specification sheet for iMac computers since 2009. However, the tech giant doesn’t use the phrase at all within its advertising campaigns for the Apple Watch.

Swatch and Cupertino don’t compete in any other market, so why worry about the slogan?

Personally, I think Apple needs to let the matter rest. It may be true that many consumers associate “Think Different” with the maker of all things “i”. Still, the slogan is fading from memory. For the past 12 years, Cupertino hasn’t actively used the catch phrase, other than in iMac packaging, for 12 years.

Other creators have parodied the phrase without challenge. There’s no hint of that advertising campaign in the spots for Apple Watch. I doubt that Cupertino will prove to the Swiss court that at least 50 percent of consumers still associate “Think Different” with Apple branding. If Apple fails to convince the Swiss Federal Administrative Court of that, then it’s game over anyways.

7 Comments Add a comment

  1. Sorry but I must admit I completely, utterly, totally disagree.
    Apple has no choice. Apple HAS to protect their intellectual property. To let one slide will encourage others. The rules of business require that a publically traded corporation protect their property, whether that means a slogan, or the design of the iPhone, or the fit and feel of their OS or chasing sleeping homeless off of their Cupertino Campus. It is part of doing business. I agree a slogan they used fifteen years ago is pretty unimportant. But it would set a precedent. The next thing you know you’ll have iPhone plastered on all sorts of things.

    So as petty as this is if Swatch didn’t try to do a deal, they have to go after them.

  2. CudaBoy

    Never mind the fact that Apple stole Think Different from D, D, & B’s ’59 through 60’s ad campaign for VW Beetle’s Think Different right down to the minimalist look – Apple used Garamond font and VW used Helvetica or Myriad and Apple later copied that Myriad for all “i” devices. I don’t think the unoriginal copycat Apple designers have a chance in court on this one.

  3. Jeff Butts

    @geoduck, I respect your position. However, Apple’s already let the issue slide in other regards. A number of parodies of “Think Different” went unnoticed, for example. For example, during “Steam’s release on Mac OS X, Valve released a Left 4 Dead–themed advertisement featuring Francis, whose in-game spoken lines involve him hating various things. The given slogan is ‘I hate different.’ Subsequently, for Team Fortress 2’s release on Mac, a trailer was released which concludes with ‘Think bullets’.

  4. Scott B in DC

    Jeff, there is a different between parodies and commerical use of a trademarked marketing by a major organization. Parodies are covered under free speech, commerical use of a trademark is not. Using a slogan “I hate different” would be difficult to defend on an intrusion on a copyright.

    Apple has grounds to defend its trademark. All this means is that a judge will not throw out the case on a summary judgement. A judge will rule that there is a case and that there is a possibility that Apple could win. The case would go forward until either they settle or the case is heard in court.

    As for your relevance comment, McDonald’s defended its name against a family in (I think) Pennsylvania who opened a clothing store with named McDonald. It was their name but the corporation prevailed because they were first.

    These types of cases occurr all of the time. Some of them became public in the early days of the dot-com boom when people were buying names similar to national names. This is why ICANN issued the rules to ensure that trademark names are not infringed on.

    You may not like that Apple is defending their trademark, and that’s not the problem. To argue their legal standing may be a bit out of your league!

  5. Jeff Butts

    True, Scott, arguing Apple’s legal standing is way out of my league. I’m a writer and an educator, not a lawyer. My final position is that just because Apple has a right to do it doesn’t mean it’s right to do it.

  6. vpndev

    I’m not sure should/shouldn’t is better but there’s one thing for sure – this is a trademark issue.

    And for trademarks, unlike patents, you have to actively enforce them or you lose them. Now, you can settle a friendly licensing deal (sometimes known as a “peppercorn rent”) where the other party doesn’t have to actually pay, but does recognize the trademark.

    That would be a clean solution here.

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