24 January 2014

It Was 30 Years Ago Today...

On Super Bowl Sunday, 24 January 1984, Apple launched the Mac.  And ran this landmark ad- only once.  The director was Ridley Scott, then known for directing 'Alien' and 'Blade Runner'.

And so began the era of the Super Bowl 'event' ad.

I was giving a talk recently, when someone asked the question that's bounced around the inner chambers of marketing for 'lo these 30 years:  "Why is '1984' such a landmark moment in advertising?"  Having spent a lot of quality time examining the campaign, I listened helplessly as three reasons poured from someone in my cranial sub-basement:

TIMING (See also 'C' for 'Cosmic Tumblers')

In the early 80's, the prospect of home computing hurtled unstoppably toward our entire planetary culture.  Early players- including Commodore and IBM- scrambled to satisfy consumer curiosity.  Through the impeccable lens of hindsight, they're dismissed today as clumsy corporate louts.  No one knew it was a high tech phony war; not until ARAPANet evolved into the INTERNET in the 90's that the revolution would truly begin.

The one brand to emerge and evolve through the early birthing times of the 80's, and adapt deftly to the rise of the INTERNET- would be Apple.  '1984' would be its ordination.

In January 1984, it was Apple who articulated this new hunger, promised accessibility to hungry consumers, and most importantly, delivered on its brand promise.


Eric Blair (George Orwell) wrote his famous novel in 1948; it's said that it was the spirit of allegory that caused him to invert the last two digits.  So in 1984 the story was set.

This same computer-ravenous culture, hungry for an 'aha!' moment to consecrate the warnings of the prophet Orwell, searched the cultural landscape for an articulate acknowledgement of the notorious year.

Apple's brand DNA was perfectly (I say again- perfectly) fed people's desire to separate home computing with the lab-coat pocket-protector MIT post-grad computer culture.  The strategic promise of '1984' was creative individualism.  Apple's Mac would lay claim to the creative right-brain.  Orwell's 1984- so timely on that January Sunday, the 'world's eyes' stage of the Super Bowl provided rare, powerful, you-only-get-one-shot-at-this portal to the popular imagination.


When the Chiat/Day team presented the spot to Apple brass, there was a nasty silence.  Then-CEO John Sculley later wrote that only Steve Jobs liked it.

When Sculley and Jobs played it for Apple's Board of Directors, there was a frosty silence.  They- (what's the technical term? Ah yes)-  hated it.  Moreover, they insisted Apple sell back its $1 million minute of Super Bowl airtime.  That's when a technicality saved the spot:  contractually, Apple could only be refunded half of their $1 million.  So the spot aired.  And an industry has fawned ever since.

Jobs, Mac, and Sculley

And the cerise sur le gâteau?  '1984' aired during a mind-numbingly forgettable football game.

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