Creative All Star: Eric Grunbaum

It’s fitting that MediaPost Creative All Star Eric Grunbaum, a founding partner and Executive Creative Director at Apple’s bespoke advertising agency TBWA\Media Arts Lab, has dedicated most of his career to the advertising and promotion of the Apple brand and its array of products and services. 

As Grunbaum recalls it, even before he had the slightest inkling that he was headed for a career in Adland, he was “seduced and inspired” by a Chiat/Day magazine insert for the original Macintosh computer. That was back in 1984, when he was a senior in high school. He was so impressed with the ad content and the product that he convinced his parents to help him buy one to take to college. He’s been an Apple fan ever since.

If Grunbaum had grown up to be a Major League Baseball All-Star playing for the New York Yankees, his story might be likened to a kid who worshipped Mickey Mantle. But don’t call it destiny, says Grunbaum.  “As Steve [Jobs] said, ‘you can only connect the dots looking back!’”

Grunbaum, an Oregon native, headed off to Bowdoin College in Maine for a liberal arts education and it was almost graduation time before he decided to give advertising a shot. Popular culture was a partial influence — the network series "thirtysomething" was on the air at the time. Some of the main characters worked at an agency and Grunbaum recalls that the work as depicted on the show looked interesting. The fact that the ad guys got to wear jeans to work was also a draw.

A personality test to determine suitable careers put it over the top. The results showed he’d be a good fit in the ad biz (or publishing), “so I just ran with it.” 

And he’s been running with it ever since, first at an internship in Maine that led to a position with Borders, Perrin & Norrander in Portland, OR. Two years later in 1992, after winning a pocketful of copywriting awards, he joined Chiat/Day where he created award-winning work for Energizer, Sony PlayStation, Nissan and Infiniti.

In 1997, Grunbaum and his partner at the agency, the art director Craig Tanimoto took a two-week break from the Nissan account to help out on an Apple pitch. Chiat/Day (which was acquired by Omnicom in 1995 and merged with TBWA) had lost the business in the mid-1980’s, but Apple CEO Jobs, who had recently returned to the company asked the agency to present. The result: “Think Different,” the iconic campaign that enabled Chiat/Day to recapture the account and which is credited with helping to restore Apple’s then-tarnished brand image.

Grunbaum and Tanimoto hatched the original idea, while the latter wrote the line. Dozens of other agency staffers rallied around the idea and helped developed the full campaign, including the “Crazy Ones” TV spot. The campaign was shepherded by Creative Directors Rob Siltanen and Lee Clow.

In 2001, Grunbaum was offered his dream job — working full time on the Apple account as Co-Creative Director for the Apple Group division (which included several other brands including Pepsi and Pedigree). 

 It took Grunbaum less than a nanosecond to accept the offer.  He already loved and believed in the product. Beyond that, advertising was held in special esteem at Apple. “Advertising was considered a product of Apple, and every bit as valuable,” said Grunbaum. “The CEO [Jobs] paid super close attention.” 

TBWA\Media Arts Lab was created in 2006 to focus solely on the Apple business. “No more soda pop, no more dog food,” quips Grunbaum, “Just Apple.” Although given the number of ground-breaking products the company has launched in different categories over the past dozen years, overseeing Apple advertising has in some ways been akin to managing multiple accounts. “The brand has changed so much,” Grunbaum said, noting its pioneering iPod, iPhone, and iPad products, as well as the iTunes music store. 

The awards have piled up over the years. Cannes Lions (multiple gold, Grand Prix), The One Show (pencils of all colors), D&AD, The Kelly Awards (two $100,000 Grand Kellys, for Pedigree “Dogs Rule” and iPod “Silhouettes"), Communication Arts, The New York Art Directors Club, Adweek’s “Campaign of the Decade” (Get a Mac), Obies (multiple best-of-shows, and Hall of Fame), Addys, Clios, Webbys, Effies, and two Emmys. 

Apple and advertising are just two of many passions in Grunbaum’s life.  Among the others are architecture and design, evidenced by the Venice, CA house he now resides in that he spent four years building. He acknowledges some influence by Frank Gehry, noting the home’s cement floors, some yellow walls and marine-grade plywood accents. (Gehry designed the Chiat Day Building in 1991).

And then there’s the music collection, which amounts to 67,618 songs (and counting) in his iTunes library. In addition to listening, Grunbaum does a little bit of DJing on his Technics 1200s just for the fun of it. 

Grunbaum also loves to surf and travel and the two interests sometimes intersect. His two favorite destinations are Tokyo, for culture and food, and Zihuatanejo, Mexico for surfing. And food. Yes, he’s a foodie too. But between the surfing and biking (another passion) one thing he doesn’t have to count is calories.

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