Maslen on Marketing

The “Pornographic” Font So Disgusting Apple Agencies Were Fired For Using It


In 1985, when future megabrand status was an unimaginable dream for the young Steve Jobs, another young man in another part of the world was embarking on his own creative journey.

His name was Helmut Böhne. An Austrian graphic designer who had unaccountably – for he was one of the most gifted students at the Österschülle Fur Dessin und Tipographie – flunked his finals, his passion was type design.

After a couple of dozen fruitless attempts to interest the all-powerful Linotype company in his designs, he eventually paid out of his own pocket to cut a typeface with an independent type founders – Hochse AG – and released it onto the market.

The typeface was not a success. In fact it landed the young Böhne in court in his hometown of Shwantze. As it was modelled on, and drew several of its features from, a particularly egregious variety of late-seventies German pornography, it is not hard to understand why.

He called it, unironically, Indenap Rilschicken – a Schwabian vulgarity for which there is no English translation but has the sense of “hard, fast and rough”.

Facing unpayable court fines and legal fees, Böhne took the only remaining course of action open to him. He sold the typeface and all his intellectual property rights to a small French advertising agency specialising in the “adult” film industry.

They in turn were later acquired by the giant advertising group Havas. That would have been the end of the story. Except that one bright spring morning in 1998, the agency’s US CEO, Walter Casey III, was having lunch with his counterpart at Apple. Yes. Steve Jobs. Now riding high on the success of his firm’s growing designer appeal.

Casey was eager to win a slice of Apple’s business and pitched the idea of running a “street” campaign aimed at graffiti artists who might be persuaded to create their designs on a Macbook before transferring them to subways trains, apartment buildings and so on.

The deal was done over a post-lunch Martini.

Now Casey had a problem. His US creatives had no real experience with anything even vaguely urban or cool. They were exclusively from fmcg and motor industry backgrounds. So he rang the “big boss” in Paris – Avril Poissonne, a formidable Parisienne known for her high standards and even higher heels.

She knew whom to call and a week later their in-house “skunkworks” – a semi-feral group of writers and designers recruited from the banlieues around Paris – were hard at work on the campaign.

Guess which typeface they elected to use?

So it was that later that year, Walter Casey sat across from Jobs and his CMO in a 50th floor office in Apple’s Cupertino HQ. He’d had no time to review the creative, having only just recovered from a triple-bypass operation, some say brought on by the stress of delivering something Jobs would approve of.

As he unsheathed the artwork from his bespoke alligator-leather portfolio and turned it to face Jobs, Casey sensed something was wrong.

Jobs sat, stony-faced, while his CMO squirmed in his seat.

Facing them across the sequoia-wood boardroom table was an A1 poster of a Macbook displaying a couple engaged in athletic and possibly illegal sexual activity, with the strapline, “Do it hard, do it fast, do it with a Macbook” rendered in 148 pt Indenap Rilschicken.

History does not record Jobs’s words when he could finally speak, but Casey left with his tail between his legs and no further business from Apple.

Jobs issued one of his famous company-wide “Notes From Steve” later the same day, outlining a new rule.

“No Apple agency to use any typeface except those specifically authorised by me.”

“Any agency using or even discussing the Rilschicken font will be fired on the spot with no severance or kill fee.”

“Any member of staff contracting such an agency will face a 3-month suspension without pay.”

Needless to say, Steve’s note was read and heeded very, very carefully.

Write a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.



Try Now, Risk-FREE!

Learn to be a copywriter

Watch the first three videos of Breakthrough Copywriting free of charge.

Try the exercises, too.
FREE videos
FREE exercises
FREE for 30 days.