On January 22, 1984 during the third quarter of the Superbowl, Apple aired an ad that would change the world. After watching the original, I vaguely remember seeing the remake of that very ad in the 2004 Superbowl, this time for the release of the iPod.
Despite the lapse in time, I imagine my reaction to the original after watching it today was much the same as when I saw the 2oo4 version. It went something like this:
Okay. We’re looking a little cult-esque here with a military-style line of folks in grey uniforms marching down a sci-fi tunnel. …And there’s a really creepy dude on a screen brainwashing a bunch of bald human drones as he hails the virtues of Oneness. (“Anthem” anyone?) From the sea of grey nothingness emerges a young woman with bright red shorts and a white tank top being chased by police guys in what looks like dark, industrial strength bee protection suits. Or welder outfits, take your pick. … Run… run… [Woman launches hammer with grace that I could never hope to have at the screen with the creepy guy. Explosion of light on stunned faces of the drones.] WHOA.
I would be surprised if the people watching the 1984 Superbowl at the time did not have similar reactions. After all, the ad is practically halfway to being a sci-fi movie as it is. Aside from the fact that the advertisement has won four awards since its original air date, we know quite well that Apple has changed the face of modern technology on many fronts. Successful campaign? Absolutely.
So the big question is: How’d they do it?
Let’s take a step back for a moment and examine the context. The Apple advertisement was created during a time when IBM was aiming for domination of the computer technology industry. (Remember those guys?) So it would make perfect sense that Apple would need to create a stand-out ad that would separate them from their competitors.
And that it did. Above all, the ad’s creators did one very important thing that nearly guaranteed its success: they caught the attention of everyone. Of course, the required move was to reach out to those individuals who had an interest in and love for technology. But Apple’s advertisement reached everyone watching the Superbowl, media professionals, software developers, potential customers, everyone watching the replays on the news, and even us today. Fun fact: ironically, the ad inspired Jon Staenberg — creator of Windows — who is currently Mac’s biggest competitor.
But back to IBM. Given the context, it’s no mystery who Creepy Guy on the Screen is meant to resemble — Big Blue of course. The result is a provoking combination of fear, awe, and in the end, curiosity. Do we want to be the mindless human drones that are dominated by the man on the screen? No way! We want the empowerment of the woman — the empowerment of Mac! It is this symbolism that portrays Mac as a tool for battling conformity and fostering originality, but more importantly, as a product people would want.
One of the most interesting things about the commercial is that it generates buzz for the product without actually featuring the product. We are sold based on an ideal alone. Similarly, the ad references (and rather overtly at that) Orwell’s “1984″ which was actually published in 1949. Certainly, there is reason in the assumption that most folks don’t want to live in a dystopian society like the one detailed in Orwell’s novel. As the text at the end of the ad intriguingly states, 1984 won’t be like “1984″.
That is, if consumers refuse to allow the domination of a single company in the computer technology industry.