• Gary Potter

Apple Days - Lessons in Brilliant Marketing

Updated: Jan 3, 2019

A 1980’s perspective of Apple UK

After recently lecturing to a class of 16 and 17 year old students memories of over 30 years ago flooded back to me.

I was talking about the ‘old’ and ‘new’ ways of designing and creating brochures and advertising material. One of the female students posed the question: “which do you prefer, the ‘old’ or the ‘new’?” It made me ponder!

Casting my mind back to 1st October 1980 - I entered the upstairs offices of Microsense Computers, Finway Road, Hemel Hempstead - the Sole UK Distributor for Apple Computer. The first person I met was Gill Underwood, Admin and Personnel Manager. I never realised at that moment, I would be renting a room from her for the next 12 months!

I felt like Billy Elliot, coming from a working class, industrial town in the Black Country, I had very little knowledge of micro electronics and only an awareness of what an Apple Personal Computer could do. I’d had a fantastic job at JCB until Margaret Thatcher wiped the smile off my face, so seeking employment I made the brave move to the Home Counties, joining Microsense. A completely different culture to the life style back in the Midlands. People seemed to have ‘money’!! A one bedroom flat on Woodall Farm, Hemel was £22,000 – you could buy a mansion for that in Walsall!

Microsense was a small business, I was the 21st employee, joining Stephen Brewer and a young lady called ‘Cherry Watret’ in their Marketing Department.

Stephen Brewer Sales and Marketing Director

Two brothers, Stephen and Mike Brewer, raised a substantial amount of capital by remortgaging their homes to start Microsense in 1979, having visited a major computer fair in New York and doing a deal with Steve Jobs. They identified the potential of Personal Computers and purchased 60 units from Apple Computer Inc. Brought the PC’s back to the UK, converted the Power Supplies to 240 volts and sold them through their existing dealer network. The Brewers already owned a computer peripherals company ‘Data Efficiency’ and they could use their small network of dealers to help market these revolutionary desktop products.

Apple II Personal Computer

After selling the initial 60 Apple II’s, a further 60 were purchased from California and sold again. From then on, the consignments got bigger!

Apple - The Brand

Jobs and Wozniak had used the name ‘Apple’ to create a brand for their company. The word ‘Apple’ a non specific word used in everyday English grammar, available for everyone to use, unlike specific words like Nike, Sony or Dyson, for example.

Origins of the Apple brand

This was a wise move by Jobs and Wozniak because the word ‘Apple’ could be related to the iconic Beatles record label owned by Apple Records (Apple Corps. Ltd).

I would say that naming the company ‘Apple’ helped extensively in making Apple Computer Inc. a success, because the name was iconic, it was familiar, it had trust, and everyone liked John, Paul, George and Ringo.

It also had retail connotations because in 1976, 45 rpm and 33 rpm black plastic records were purchased in the High Street. ‘Apple’ worked, it made people take notice, and it already had ‘trust’. A brilliant move!

Combine this brand with the Apple II product, which was a workhorse; it was reliable, it had expandability, it was versatile and adaptable. In addition, there was a huge range of software and hardware products available. It was the combination of these qualities which established it within the marketplace during those very volatile and precarious early days. Remember – at that time the public were only just getting used to hand held calculators!!

Marketing Driven

I was brought in to help Cherry Watret, Marketing Manager, expand the now 50 or so dealer network and support them with Stephen and Mike’s marketing strategy.

Cherry and I would trek up and down the country in our British Leyland Minis, not only building exhibition stands, but manning them at the Which Computer Show, Birmingham, or the London Business Show, Earls Court. We held numerous dealer conferences and seminars in venues like the Wembley Conference Centre, and exhibition halls in hotels in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.

The exhibition stands were built using low cost Marler Haley systems, and within minutes of the event opening we would get trampled on by hundreds of people.

The exhibitions were supported by advertising and PR in most of the computer press.

Through national advertising, using high profile people like Freddie Laker and Patrick Lichfield as case studies in the Times and Telegraph newspapers, we generated thousands of coupon sales responses and in return we would send out literature packs and information about Apple products with details of the customer’s nearest Apple dealers.

Freddie Laker Case Study using an Apple II PC

This whole strategy was a very clever move by Stephen Brewer, by using these high profile people, it built further trust in the product.

The Apple Dealer Network grew to over 700, and within 2 years, Microsense had expanded from a tiny seed to a flourishing Times Top 1000 company. In 1982 Apple Computer Inc. purchased Microsense and called it Apple Computer (UK) Limited turning over in excess of £20 million. Using today’s property values as a benchmark, this would be equivalent to around £150 million, with Apple UK proving to be a major player in Apple’s growth.

During these early days, it was the shear passion and spirit of the employees, combined with their imagination, creativity, hard work, determination and camaraderie that helped the Apple UK operation expand and fight off major competition from IBM, Apricot, Hewlett Packard, Compaq, Amstrad and the BBC Micro.

The excellent working relationships between directors and employees was remarkable, continuously working together on exhibition stands and at dealer shows.

Outside of the US, compared to countries like Germany and France, Apple UK was the highest performer in terms of Apple II sales and software development. By 1982 we had helped Apple Computer Inc. achieve over $1 Billion in sales.

The first Apps!?

While the ‘Freddie Laker and Patrick Lichfield’ campaigns were attracting general interest, working alongside this, one of our most successful marketing strategies was ‘Vertical Marketing’.

This is based on taking a product which the average consumer doesn’t normally relate to, in our case Personal Computers which were not fully understood in 1981, and make it appeal to consumers in a very specific business sector, which in turn creates strong interest and sales.

Apple dealers supported this and they developed software for applications such as small business accounting, building & construction, dentistry, industrial applications, the medical profession, farming and agriculture.

Apple Software Catalogue

Apple Software Catalogue

One of my main responsibilities involved the creation of the Apple Software Catalogue, liaising with the Dealer Network and software developers to keep it up-to-date, creating the design and artwork, organising the printing and distribution to the dealer network.

The Catalogue helped drive the Vertical Marketing campaign, gave us an edge over competitors and was used extensively at all major events such as seminars, exhibitions and dealer shows.

Companies like Jarman Systems, Lakeland Computer Systems, Computech Systems and Dewco Information Systems flourished as a result.

Apple in Education

The biggest vertical market sector was ‘Education’, so in 1980 a specialist UK Education Department was set up, headed by Dave King (Microsense and Apple UK) and supported by Jon Covington, Apple Computer Inc

Apple in Education

Barry Holmes, former Head Teacher at St. Helens County Primary School in Cambridgeshire sums it up, “In the late seventies, when personal computers were really establishing themselves in the business world, I became interested in their value to education. I sat down with my Deputy and examined the idea of how one could help us. We then examined the various products on the market, compared each one’s merits, and finally made the decision to buy Apple, which not only fitted our criteria but was also being offered at a very reasonable price by Personal Computers of London”.

Steve Jobs

Apple UK moved to Eastman Way, Hemel Hempstead, where Steve Jobs, Mike Spindler (Apple Inc.) and Richard Haas (Apple Europe) would come over to the UK, gather us in the staff canteen, and talk to us!!

Although ‘ultimately’ the company portrayed a ‘Jeans Culture’ Steve dressed in sharp, double breasted suits and wore a bow tie and colourful braces. At 27 years old, he had a mature persona, it was fascinating listening to him convey his stories, advice and ideas on what we were going to do next!!

By the summer of 1983, rumours of the Apple Macintosh were now turning into reality, shipments of early models, empty cases for photographic purposes plus hardware components and software were sent to us for UK development.

Autumn 1983

I liaised with Joanna Hoffman, Steve Job’s Apple Macintosh Marketing Manager, in Apple Cupertino, writing and developing the UK Macintosh brochure and advertising material. From England, I would wait till 5.00pm UK time, phone Joanna as it would be about 9.00am US time, and ask her to send over various marketing materials. Using the Post Office air mail system and Telex, she would send me heaps of transparencies and suggested text – these days we wouldn’t think twice about emailing them within seconds.

In the UK, we felt that the American brochure didn’t convey the Mac message directly enough to appeal to a British audience. The US front cover displayed a Mac being lifted from a case, with the message ‘Of the 235 million people in America, only a fraction can use a computer’. This would not have worked in the UK.

Christmas 1983

We preferred a more ‘simple and direct’ approach: ‘If you can point, you can use a Macintosh’. This instantly conveyed how ‘user friendly’ the Mac is and available for everyone. With this title in mind I wrote and designed the first Apple UK Macintosh brochure, using on the front cover, a combination of photographs to reflect the message, superimposing 3 photographs on top of one another. Adobe Photoshop didn’t exist then!

The inside pages directly compared IBM with Apple Mac technology, showing how pointing and clicking on ‘icons’ was far more user friendly than keying in complex command codes.

January 1984

At a London theatre the Apple Macintosh was launched in late January 1984 portraying the iconic 1984 advert directed by Ridley Scott which we, as a marketing department, assisted in its production.

The first Apple TV advert

Vertical Marketing remains a powerful marketing tool

Following the launch of the Apple Macintosh, it became apparent that ‘Vertical Marketing’ was fundamental in developing sales.

The Apple Macintosh, with its ability to produce clear fonts on screen using black on white graphics, was ideal for the design, advertising, printing and publishing industry. During the mid 80’s, programs like Aldus Pagemaker and Adobe Illustrator were being rapidly developed to work with the Apple Desktop Laser Printer - and the term, ‘What you see is what you get’ was coined.

Software Development

As the Apple Macintosh product developed so did the software, establishing the Mac in the marketplace and revolutionising the newspaper, book, publishing, graphic design, advertising and photographic industries. Gone were the traditional skills required to create artwork, film and plates, the Mac automated artwork production, connecting directly to imagesetters, eradicating the use of rubilith masking film, or the need for manually stripping-in four colour scan sets to create photographic images.

No other PC manufacturer compared to this during the mid 80’s.

Apple Macintosh Today!

Today, although the original principle is the same, pointing and clicking icons, the present Apple Macs have moved on considerably, the screen becoming much larger, with a flatter metal body, and the electronics much more powerful.

Software has become highly sophisticated with Quark Xpress, the Adobe Creative Suite and most recently ‘Online Artwork Creation’ software, helping customers save time and money on artwork production and giving them greater control.


From 1976 to present day, I have to thank Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Mike Markkula, Mike and Stephen Brewer. They were the pioneers and risk takers. We also need to reconise Apple’s employees who’ve come and gone, plus the huge dealer network that evolved in the US and Europe, they have contributed to history, helping to create one of the world’s most iconic brands and a digital age as we know it today.

Apple’s success has been due to its ‘revolutionary’ approach towards technology. It could be described as being: daring, risky, pioneering, even crazy and sometimes painful, but it got there, becoming bigger than IBM, a company which had a turnover larger than the Gross National Product of Australia in 1982.

Let’s hope the present management team can and will continue to apply this revolutionary spirit, because they certainly now have the resource.

All it needs is vision, imagination, determination and a yearning to be different!

Gary Potter

Maximising sales by marketing

Gary Potter graduated from De Montford University in 1977, with a 2.1 BA Hons Degree in Industrial Design (Engineering) and recently received his Diploma in Education and Training qualification from University of Warwick.

He worked for JCB Sales, in their Marketing Department, and then for Apple Computer (UK) Limited, helping to establish Apple PC’s in the UK and later launching the Apple Macintosh in 1984. After Steve Jobs left the company, Gary moved over to Pirelli UK as Marketing Manager for their retail garage servicing, and fleet tyre divisions.

In 1995, Gary formed his own design, artwork and marketing company which is still flourishing today.

Gary believes in keeping technology at the forefront of his business helping to maximise quality in design and print, combined with optimum efficiency, while keeping costs down.

Gary helps charity organisations around the West Midlands, and is a Trustee of Central Youth Theatre. He also edits and designs his local Church magazine.

If you wish to contact him: Tel: +44 (0)121 569 7785




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