Apple’s iconic ‘1984’ Super Bowl ad aired on this day 39 years ago

Apple’s iconic ‘1984’ Super Bowl ad aired on this day 39 years ago

Nearly 40 years ago, Apple Computer aired its now iconic Macintosh unveiling commercial during Super Bowl XVIII. Although “1984” became a cultural phenomenon and a turning point for product launches, Apple’s board of directors opposed it from the start.

On January 22, 1984, Apple became a household name when it aired the hugely popular “1984” ad during a third-half break of Super Bowl XVIII. Directed by Ridley Scott (the same man behind Alien Y Bounty hunter) and created by Apple’s former advertising agency (Chiat/Day), the 60-second ad was inspired by George Orwell’s novel 1984which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised Big Brother-like figure (a veiled jab at IBM).

The ad begins with the resounding tones of an alarm and the march of dozens of bald men dressed in grey, walking towards a giant screen in an industrial warehouse. The ominous voice of a man speaking on a large screen is revealed as the marching men sit across from it.

Meanwhile, a woman dressed in sportswear and a white tank top emblazoned with a Macintosh is chased by four policemen in black riot gear, presumably the Thought Police from Orwell’s 1984 novel. Wielding a giant sledgehammer, she runs towards men obsessed with a Big Brother speech.

Today we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives.

We have created, for the first time in all of history, a garden of pure ideology, where every worker can flourish, safe from the plagues that supply contradictory thoughts.

Our Unification of Thoughts is a more powerful weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are a single people, with a single will, a single determination, a single cause.

Our enemies will talk to death, and we will bury them in their own confusion.

We will prevail!

Just before being caught by the police, she throws the sledgehammer at Big Brother’s screen after he declares, “We will prevail!” Then it exploded! The destruction of Big Brother frees the minds of men who watch as the light returns to their faces.

With 8 seconds left in the 60-minute ad, a narrator concludes by mentioning “Macintosh” accompanied by scrolling black text that reads:

On January 24, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you will see why 1984 will not be like 1984.

Then the screen goes black and a rainbow Apple logo appears.

How ‘1984’ Almost Didn’t Happen

When Steve Jobs first saw the ad in an internal meeting with Chiat/Day, his first reaction was, “Oh shit. This is amazing,” then-Apple CEO John Sculley told Business Insider. Steve Wozniak shared the same opinion, calling it “better than any sci-fi trailer”. However, Apple’s board of directors had very different thoughts.

After first seeing it, board member Mike Markkula suggested finding a new marketing agency and firing Chiat/Day. According to Sculley, other board members had similar thoughts. “The others just looked at each other, stunned expressions on their faces… Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen in their lives. No outside board member liked it.”

John Sculley and Steve Jobs. Photo: AP

After getting “cold feet,” Sculley ordered Chiat\Day director Jay Chiat to sell the Super Bowl airtime they had bought, but Chiat quietly disobeyed. At the time, they had two slots: a 60-second ad to play during the third quarter, and a shorter 30-second version for later in the game. Chiat sold only the 30-second ad, but told Sculley it was too late to sell the longer 60-second ad when, in fact, they didn’t even try.

When Jobs told Woz that the ad was in trouble, he immediately offered to pay $400,000 out of pocket, half of what the ad’s airtime would have cost. Him saying, “Well, I’ll pay half if you do.”

This turned out to be unnecessary. The executive team ultimately decided to run a 100-day Macintosh hype blitz. Since they had already paid to produce ‘1984’ and kept the airtime, the Super Bowl ad went ahead to kick off the campaign.

By disobeying Sculley’s instructions, Chiat helped play an important role in the success of the Macintosh and cemented the company’s place in history. Apple continued to use Chiat/Day for television advertising until 2014.

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