Remember the commercial introducing the Apple Macintosh 30 years ago (if not, here it is). Building on the book “1984”, which predicted a dystopic future where “Big Brother” knows everything and punishes wrong thinking. Written by George Orwell in 1949, the book comes disturbingly close to describing today’s world where NSA listens to conversations by ordinary folks online and via phone. But, that’s another story.
In the real 1984, Chia/Day created the now iconic commercial based on Orwell’s book to introduce the Apple Macintosh. Shown during the Super Bowl, the commercial resonated with a generation who’d been forced to read “1984” in high school literature classes. Especially relevant for the success of the message was the oft-repeated phrase that epitomized the dystopic world:
Obviously slapping at the big brother of the computer industry, PC computers, the commercial offered a world that wasn’t controlled by the outcome-focused PC industry; promising a world where playful imagination was given voice, enhanced by the graphical interface we now all use. A utopic world where the future was ours.
Viewers identified with the hero of the novel and bought the Macintosh, which saved both Apple Computers and Steve Jobs’ reputation — attesting to the power of a single ad.
Interestingly, the commercial only aired that 1 time — well except in commercial awards shows and a little run just before sign-off at a local station to allow Chiat/Day to enter the commercial in the 1983 awards. After its initial airing, George Orwell’s estate and the owner of the TV rights to “1984” cried copyright infringement and the commercial never saw the light of day again. Of course, had this happened in the Digital Age, multiple copies of the ad would instantly appear on YouTube and be shared across Twitter and Facebook. As evidence of the power of that single ad, you’ll now find multiple YouTube videos featuring the commercial and I expect numerous shares as we approach the 30 year anniversary.
Apple followed up with the “Lemmings” commercial the following year, which features similar images of a dystopic world where people stood in line to jump off a cliff — remember your mother asking if you would follow your friends off a cliff every time you used that argument to get what your friends were getting.
Not only did the 1984 commercial save Apple, it set the tone for everything to come from Apple. Almost confined to the scrap heap of failed innovators, Apple Computer became the icon of a new generation. The Macintosh lead an array of innovative ideas all focused on the task of overturning the past in favor of a future that was cooler, more user-friendly, and desired.
Apple more recently translated this message into the famous “I’m a Mac, You’re a PC” commercials that reinforced the notion that buying Apple made you somehow cooler, hipper, and smarter. Microsoft adopted similar messaging in pointing out the iPad is both more expensive and less full-featured than their Surface tablets. It remains to be seen whether they can overcome the power of a single ad — 1984.