Almost 40 years ago, Apple Computer aired its now iconic commercial introducing the Macintosh during Super Bowl XVIII. Although “1984” became a cultural phenomenon and a major time for product launches, Apple’s Board of Directors opposed it from the beginning.
On January 22, 1984, Apple became a household name when it aired the popular “1984” ad during the third half break of Super Bowl XVIII. Directed by Ridley Scott (the same man behind Foreigner and Blade Runner) and created by former Apple advertising agency (Chiat/Day), the 60-second ad was inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984which predicted a dystopian future, ruled by a Big Brother-like television figure (a veiled job at IBM).
The ad begins with the echoing tones of the alarm and the march of dozens of bald men dressed in gray clothes walking towards a large screen in an industrial hall. An eerie man’s voice is revealed speaking on a large screen as the marching men sit in front of him.
Meanwhile, a woman wearing tracksuit bottoms and a white tank top with a drawing of Macintosh is being chased by four police officers in black riot gear, probably a Thought Police novel from Orwells 1984. Wielding a giant sledgehammer, she runs towards the men based on a speech from Big Brother.
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We created, for the first time ever, a garden of pure ideology – a place where all workers could flourish, safe from the pests and cultivation of opposing ideas.
Our Unity of Thought is a more powerful weapon than any navy or army in the world. We are one people, with one will, with one solution, with one reason.
Our enemies will talk themselves to death, and we will bury them in their own misery.
We will prevail!
Just before the police arrest her, she swings the sledgehammer at Big Brother’s screen after he declares, “We will rule!” Then boom! The destruction of Big Brother leaves the minds of the men watching as the light returns to their faces.
With 8 seconds left in the 60-minute ad, a narrator concludes by mentioning “Macintosh” along with black scrolling text that reads:
On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.
The screen then fades to black, and a rainbow Apple logo appears.
Because ‘1984’ almost didn’t happen
When Steve Jobs first saw the ad in an internal meeting with Chiat/Day, his first reaction was, “Oh s–t. This is amazing,” Apple CEO John Sculley told Business Insider. Steve Wozniak shared the same opinion, saying it’s “better than any science fiction fan.” Apple’s Board of Directors, however, had very different ideas.
After seeing it for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested finding a new marketing agency and canceling Chiat/Day. According to Sculley, other board members had similar thoughts. “The others looked at each other, with blinding expressions on their faces … Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not one outside board member liked it.”
After getting “cold feet”, Sculley ordered Chiat \ Day, Jay Chiat’s principal to sell the Super Bowl airtime they had bought, but Chiat did not quietly comply. At the time, they had two slots – a 60-second commercial to play in the third quarter and a shorter 30-second version for later in the game. Chiat only sold the 30 seconds but told Sculley it was too late to sell the longer 60 second spot when, in fact, they didn’t even try.
When Jobs told Woz the ad was in trouble, he immediately offered to pay $400,000 out of pocket—half the cost of the ad’s airtime. Saying, “Well, I’ll pay half if you like.”
This happened unnecessarily. The executive team finally decided to run a 100-day Macintosh advertising blitz. Since they had already been paid to produce ‘1984’ and were stuck with the airtime, the Super Bowl ad went ahead to kick off the campaign.
By defying Sculley’s instructions, Chiat helped play a significant role in the success of the Macintosh and cemented the company’s place in history. Apple continued to use Chiat/Day for TV advertising until 2014.
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