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Apple Super Bowl 1984 Ad Won The Game 30 Years Ago

Jan 30 2014, 9:17am CST | by

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Apple Super Bowl 1984 Ad Won The Game 30 Years Ago
 
 

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Apple Super Bowl 1984 Ad Won The Game 30 Years Ago

Nine tour buses roll majestically down Sixth Avenue in New York City. The buses are flanked by a squad of police cars, with blue lights flashing. Police sirens give out a little whoop to hustle along lazy cabbies and pedestrians slow getting to the curb. Bystanders can only guess that the buses are packed with the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football players who will be competing at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Sunday, and even five days before the game are getting the kind of treatment usually reserved for foreign dignitaries and the President of the United States.

No, it’s just more Super Bowl Sunday madness.

This year is not only the XLVIIIth year of the Super Bowl, it is also the 30th Anniversary of the famous Apple “1984” spot. And it’s hard these days to imagine that Super Bowl madness wasn’t always this way.

For those unaware, the “1984” spot was the Super Bowl spot against which all other Super Bowls (and much advertising) have been judged, measured and compared ever since.

In 1983, the agency then known as Chiat-Day (today TBWA Chiat-Day) had a San Francisco office. Writer Steve Hayden and art director Brent Thomas looked through piles of work created for the San Francisco client Apple computer. Among the abandoned layouts was a two-page print spread with the headline, We’ll Make Sure 1984 Isn’t Like “1984”.

The agency called Hollywood director Ridley Scott, who had just released a couple of movies—“Alien” and “Blade Runner”, and a shoot was quickly pulled together.

The commercial showed the future in a monochromatic hyperindustrial gray.   Uniformly expressionless humans are assembled before a giant screen as big brother delivers a monotone about ‘the great body of the state’ and ‘the unification of thought’. In the midst of all the dread, a young blonde woman (a model and former discus thrower Anya Major) wearing red shorts and a white Apple MacIntosh t-shirt sprints through the assembled storm troopers and human drones to fling a sledgehammer at the screen. Over the sudden blast of glare, an announcer intones, “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984’,”

Before “1984” everyone was focused on the competition on the field. After “1984″ the ads create their own competitive playing field.

Before “1984” television commercials centered around athletes sponsoring advertisers. Like O. J. Simpson running to pick up his rental car. Or athletes sitting around, bantering over the great debate of whether or not Miller Lite “tastes great” or was “less filling”? There were hard-working men, hard-working trucks, and Budweiser’s hard-working Clydesdales. The Super Bowl was sports-centric.

“1984” referenced a strange, eerie, science fiction-type future, a book of literature we were forced to read in high school English class. “1984” was literary.

“1984” was epic, it was smart, it was breakthrough. In fact, those terms did not define advertising until we saw “1984”.

“Prior to 1984, I think commercials were starting to become an important element of the game,” says Lee Garfinkel, chief executive officer of Draft FCB. “My very first Super Bowl spot was using Ruth Gordon in 1982. She was a feisty old lady and it was about the Subaru Brat—a unique Subaru. That year Joe Namath was in a Noxema, and Henry Winkler was in a commercial for Schick. Commercials were an important part of the game.

“But when ‘1984’ came out,” says Garfinkel, “it not only changed our perception of the television commercial, it changed our perception of what a television ad could be. ‘1984’ said throw out the conventional ways of doing advertising. It could be more of an event and more movie-like in its execution.”

The ‘1984’ commercial is the first example of what former Apple ceo John Sculley called “event marketing”–a promotion so groundbreaking that it’s as buzzworthy as the product itself.

It made watching television commercial popular sport. Suddenly, people didn’t just watch the Super Bowl for game time, they watched for the ads. The game became a full-fledged entertainment enterprise. People walked out to get their chips and beer during the game, not during the ads. Some years, the ads were even better than the game. Even last year, Super Bowl commercials were viewed more than 265 million times on YouTube. And 80 million of those views happened before game day.

“1984” changed the Super Bowl from a game to a stage. It became a platform for things larger than life. Before “1984” , the halftime show was university marching bands and Up With People. After that, it was Michael Jackson.

After “1984” creating Super Bowl spots became an industry in itself. Advertisers who might have been reluctant to spend $1 million to produce a single television commercial (and millions more for the airtime) were somehow emboldened to throw dollars and reputations into the ring. It was (and is) a great way to get noticed and to get headlines./>/>

The spot created ripples not only inside the industry, but elsewhere.

Craig Tanimoto, who penned another famous campaign for Apple—the legendary  “Think different” campaign, was still a student when “1984” aired. And the television commercial influenced him.

“‘1984’ made such a deep impression that I felt compelled to get into advertising,” admits Tanimoto.  “Little did I know that 13 years later I’d have a chance to work on the account that started it all for me.”

A.C. Nielson estimated the “1984” commercial reached 46.4 percent of the households in America, a full 50 percent of the nation’s men, and 36 percent of the women. During the same game, IBM launched its own PC computer featuring an actor playing Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times character to that same audience.

Let’s see what the ads look like Sunday night. Let’s hope they make George Orwell proud.

 

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