What can I say about this iconic ad that has not already been said, and by others far more knowledgeable than I?
Rather than trying to analyze 1984, I’ll tell you why I love this ad – and there are many reasons.
It “gets’ me at the gut level. The execution is incredible. It was incredibly brave (read comments below regarding the Board of Apple hating it… but the two Steve’s stood behind it, and it ran). The Big Idea is to this day so strong, so compelling, that I am spellbound every time I watch it. The fact that even to this day, 28 years later, it remain relevant, and despite Apple having taken over market leadership, it continues to define the company and its mission. At the time it was made, the budget of $900,000 was HUGE – especially when you consider that the ad only ran once during the daytime, and yet it remains one of the most played and re-played pieces of creative ever made. This ad is used in training programs that teach great advertising & communication because of all these reasons, and more…
In summary – a preeminent example of a great agency team, a great director, and a great client getting together behind a VISION & a BIG IDEA to produce something of such lasting impact and value that it changed the world. ‘Nuff said.
Details of 1984, according to Wikipedia (where would we be without you, Wiki?, another idea that changed the world…) are as follows:
“1984” is an American television commercial which introduced the Apple Macintosh personal computer for the first time. It was conceived by Steve Hayden, Brent Thomas and Lee Clow at Chiat/Day, Venice, produced by New York production company Fairbanks Films, and directed by Ridley Scott. Anya Major performed as the unnamed heroine and David Graham as Big Brother. Its only U.S. daytime televised broadcast was on January 22, 1984 during and as part of the telecast of the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII. Chiat/Day also ran the ad one other time on television, in December 1983 right before the 1:00 am sign-off on KMVT in Twin Falls, Idaho, so that the advertisement could be submitted to award ceremonies for that year. In addition, starting on January 17, 1984 it was screened prior to previews in movie theaters for a few weeks. It has since been seen on television commercial compilation specials, as well as in “Retro-mercials” on TV Land. The estate of George Orwell and the television rightsholder to the novel 1984 considered the commercial to be a flagrant copyright infringement, and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Apple and Chiat/Day in April 1984. The commercial was never televised as a commercial after that.
“1984” used the unnamed heroine to represent the coming of the Macintosh (indicated by her white tank top with a cubist picture of Apple’s Macintosh computer on it) as a means of saving humanity from “conformity” (Big Brother). These images were an allusion to George Orwell‘s noted novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which described a dystopian future ruled by a televised “Big Brother“. The rows of marching minions have direct cinematic parallels with those in the opening scenes of the classic dystopian film Metropolis.
Originally a subject of contention within Apple, it has nevertheless consistently been lauded as a classic, winning critical acclaim over time. It is now considered a watershed event and a masterpiece in advertising, and is widely regarded as one of the most memorable and successful American television commercials of all time.
The commercial was rebroadcast in an updated version in 2004 on its 20th anniversary, with the heroine modified to be listening to an iPod. Viewers generally saw the Big Brother target of the Apple advertisement as being Microsoft, with the original villain, IBM, being all but forgotten.
The commercial opens with a dystopic, industrial setting in blue and gray tones, showing a line of people (of ambiguous gender) marching in unison through a long tunnel monitored by a string of telescreens. This is in sharp contrast to the full-color shots of the nameless runner (Anya Major). She looks like an Olympic track and field athlete, as she is carrying a large brass-headed hammer and is wearing an athletic “uniform” (bright orange athletic shorts, running shoes, a white tank top with a cubist picture of Apple’s Macintosh computer, a white sweat band on her left wrist, and a red one on her right).
As she is chased by four police officers (presumably agents of the Thought Police) wearing black uniforms, protected by riot gear, helmets with visors covering their faces, and armed with large night sticks, she races towards a large screen with the image of a Big Brother-like figure (David Graham, also seen on the telescreens earlier) giving a speech:
||Today, we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology — where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests purveying contradictory truths. Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!
The runner, now close to the screen, hurls the hammer towards it, right at the moment Big Brother announces, “we shall prevail!” In a flurry of light and smoke, the screen is destroyed, shocking the people watching the screen.
The commercial concludes with a portentous voiceover, accompanied by scrolling black text (in Apple’s early signature “Garamond” font); the hazy, whitish-blue aftermath of the cataclysmic event serves as the background. It reads:
The screen fades to black as the voiceover ends, and the rainbow Apple logo appears.
The commercial was created by the advertising agency Chiat/Day, Venice, with copy by Steve Hayden, art direction by Brent Thomas and creative direction by Lee Clow. Ridley Scott (whose dystopian sci-fi film, Blade Runner was released two years prior) was hired by agency producer Richard O’Neill to direct it, with a then-“unheard-of production budget of $900,000.”
Steve Jobs and John Sculley were so enthusiastic about the final product that they “…purchased one and a half minutes of ad time for the Super Bowl, annually the most-watched television program in America. In December 1983 they screened the commercial for the Apple Board of Directors. To Jobs’ and Sculley’s surprise, the entire board hated the commercial.”
Despite the board’s dislike of the film, Steve Jobs continued to support it. Steve Wozniak watched it and offered to pay for half of the spot personally if the board refused to air it. Of the original ninety seconds booked, Chiat/Day managed to resell thirty seconds to another advertiser, leaving the other sixty second slot.
Adelia Cellini states in a 2004 article for Macworld, “The Story Behind Apple’s ‘1984’ TV Commercial”:
- Let’s see – an all-powerful entity blathering on about Unification of Thoughts to an army of soulless drones, only to be brought down by a plucky, Apple-esque underdog. So Big Brother, the villain from Apple’s ‘1984’ Mac ad, represented IBM, right? According to the ad’s creators, that’s not exactly the case. The original concept was to how the fight for the control of computer technology as a struggle of the few against the many, says TBWA/Chiat/Day’s Lee Clow. Apple wanted the Mac to symbolize the idea of empowerment, with the ad showcasing the Mac as a tool for combating conformity and asserting originality. What better way to do that than have a striking blonde athlete take a sledghammer to the face of that ultimate symbol of conformity, Big Brother?
However, in his 1983 Apple keynote address, Steve Jobs read the following story before showcasing a preview of the commercial to a select audience:
- […] It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers initially welcoming IBM with open arms now fear an IBM dominated and controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right?