Apple's famous “1984” Super Bowl ad that aired 40 years ago this week; how this almost didn't happen

On this day, 40 years ago, Apple's first Macintosh went on sale, just two days after it was introduced to the world during a commercial break in the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII. Although “1984” became a cultural phenomenon and a watershed moment for new product launches, Apple's Board of Directors was against it from the very beginning. This is how the legendary ad almost went on air

On January 22, 1984, Apple instantly became a household name when the wildly popular 1984” advertising during Super Bowl XVIII. Directed by Sir Ridley Scott (the same guy who directed Alien and Blade Runner) and created by former Apple ad agency Chiat/Day, the 60-second ad was inspired by George Orwell's 1984, which envisioned a dystopian a future controlled by a televised Big Brother-like figure (a veiled jab at IBM).

The ad begins with echoing alarm sounds and the march of dozens of bald men in gray clothes walking towards a large screen in an industrial hall. The ominous voice of a man speaking on a large screen is heard as the marching men sit down in front of him.

Meanwhile, a woman in sportswear and a white Macintosh tank top is chased by four police officers in black riot gear, presumably the “Thought Police” from Orwell's 1984 novel. Swinging a giant sledgehammer, she rushes towards the men, fixated on the Big Brother speech.

Today we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Data Cleanup Directives. .

For the first time in history, we have created a garden of pure ideology, where every worker can bloom, protected from pests that spread contradictory thoughts.

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

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

We will win!

Shortly before she is caught by the police, she throws a sledgehammer at the Big Brother screen after he declares, “We will prevail!”” Then it thundered! The destruction of Big Brother frees the minds of the people as they watch the light return to their faces.

With 8 seconds left in the 60 Minutes commercial, the narrator concludes by mentioning “Mac”; accompanied by scrolling black text that reads:

On January 24, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't look like 1984.

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

Like ‘1984’ almost didn't happen

When Steve Jobs first saw the ad at an internal meeting with Chiat/Day, his first reaction was, “Holy 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 a completely different opinion.

Seeing this for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested finding a new marketing agency and firing Chiat/Day. Other board members had similar views, Sculley said. “The others just looked at each other with stunned expressions on their faces… Most of them thought it was the worst ad they had ever seen. No outside board member liked it.”

John Sculley and Steve Jobs. Photo: AP

After the “chicken feet”” Scully instructed ChiatDay director Jay Chiat to sell the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat quietly disobeyed. At the time, they had two slots: a 60-second ad to play in the third quarter and a 30-second shorter version to play later during the game. Chiat only sold a 30-second spot and told Sculley that it was too late to sell a longer 60-second spot, even though they weren't even trying.

When Jobs told Woz there were problems with advertising, he immediately offered pay $400,000 out of pocket – half the cost of airtime for advertising. Say: “Well, if you want, I’ll pay half.”

This turned out to be unnecessary. Ultimately, management decided to run a 100-day Macintosh advertising campaign. Since they already paid for the production of ‘1984’ and stuck on the airwaves, the Super Bowl commercial kicked off the campaign.

By doing the opposite of Sculley's instructions, Chiat helped play a significant role in the Macintosh commercial. success and consolidation of the company’s place in history. Apple continued to use Chiat/Day for television advertising until 2014.

Read more

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  • 40 years of Macintosh : Remembering my love affair with the original Mac

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