From Fairbanks Films/Chiat/Day
A screenshot of Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl commercial for the Macintosh, the 60-second commercial announcing the arrival of the revolutionary Macintosh personal computer.
The most famous – and arguably best – Super Bowl commercial in history, the Apple “1984” ad, was nearly killed by the company it was made for.
The 60-second ad, which heralded the arrival of the revolutionary Macintosh, shows a dystopian gathering of an audience of gray-looking men, wearing identical gray outfits and shaved heads, watching a leader on a large screen speak with almost unintelligible words about the goal of compliance and “information purification collectors”.
A young woman dressed in running shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt runs into the room, pursued by helmeted police officers, and throws a hammer at the screen, causing it to explode in white light. At this point, a narrator walks in reading the words that also appear on screen.
“On January 24, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh,” he said. “And you’ll see why 1984 won’t look like ‘1984’.”
The spot helped change not only the way people thought about having a computer in their home, but it also changed the way the nation’s largest companies thought about advertising during the Super Bowl.
The game is now full of ads that advertisers spend millions to produce, before even paying millions more to air the spots, in an effort to make a good impression on an audience that generally does its best to avoid ads . But it helped make the ads as interesting as the game itself for some viewers.
But Apple’s board of directors hated the 1984 ad, according to some of the ad executives who worked on the campaign. It didn’t show the computer it ostensibly was, unlike most ads that try to show the product they’re promoting. And Apple’s board of directors wasn’t very happy. Most advertisements did not seek to remind people of a dark world inviting conformity.
In fact, they hated it so much that they ordered the agency that made it, Chiat/Day, to sell the time they had already purchased for that year’s Super Bowl, rather than to broadcast advertising.
“Everyone loved it until we showed it to the board,” said Lee Clow, one of the executives who created the iconic ad. He said Steve Jobs, Apple’s founder, largest individual shareholder and creative force behind Apple products, fully supported advertising that never showed the product.
“Steve asked, ‘I want something that will stop the world from introducing the Macintosh,'” Clow said. “We came up with the bravest thing possible.”
So the agency and Jobs worked together to ensure he was at that year’s Super Bowl, days before the product’s introduction, despite opposition from CEO John Scully and the board of directors. .
“We kind of conspired not to sell (already purchased airtime) so we could air it just once,” Clow said. “We had a pretty big impact running it just once.”
Apple did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The reaction, both in the advertising industry and among viewers, has been overwhelmingly positive, Clow said.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Lee Clow, president and global director of TBWAWorldwide, in a 2016 file photo.
“In my opinion, it’s the best commercial ever made,” said Marcus Collins, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan. “It’s about magnifying the brand’s beliefs. It has become the benchmark for marketing communications. Advertising is about getting people’s attention.
He said the attention this ad brought to Apple is hard to overestimate.
“It was only shown once but we’re talking about it 40 years later because of its impact and cultural resonance,” he said.
He said it also changed the way companies viewed Super Bowl ads in the 40 years since they aired.
“What we’ve seen is companies saying, ‘We can’t do our usual advertising. We need to step up the production values and the story we tell,” he said. “They still don’t live up to what that ad did.”
The commercial was directed by Ridley Scott, who had previously directed the films Alien and Blade Runner, but was still filming some commercials in the UK.
Clow said Scott was one of those who said, “Let’s make something that doesn’t look like an advertisement at all, that looks like a feature film.”
But Apple’s board of directors hated everything about the ad, he said.
“They didn’t like or understand the advertising. They thought it was a waste of money,” Clow said. “The product was not shown. It didn’t show what the product did. It just messed up their left brain. They thought logically, rather than emotionally and passionately like Steve thought.
The ad ran numerous times, for free, in news stories over the coming years. But a year later, a clash between Jobs and Scully led the board to force Jobs out of the company.
Chiat/Day, the agency that created the ad that is still talked about 40 years later, was fired by Apple shortly after. Scully wanted to work with the more conventional agency he had previously worked with at Pepsico.
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