It was 30 years ago (30!) when the world was first introduced to the legendary Apple Macintosh, and 30 years ago the world saw the famous 1984 ad.
The story of that ad is the stuff of legend itself and many myths surround it,
I’ve used a variety of sources to tell what I hope is a (reasonably) true story of its creation.
I’ll pay for half if you pay the other half
It may seem almost inconceivable now but one of the most famous ads of all time, the Apple Macintosh 1984 spot, very nearly didn’t run.
The story of its route to the Advertising Hall of Fame begins in late 1982 with Apple’s advertising agency, Chiat/Day, working on a print campaign, not for the Macintosh but for its predecessor, the Apple II. The concept was intended to play off George Orwell’s totalitarian vision of the future. “Six months before we (even) knew about Mac, we had this new ad that read, “Why 1984 won’t be like 1984,” creative director, Lee Clow, remembers.
The ad never ran and that might have been the end of it had it not been for Steve Hayden, a copywriter, and Brent Thomas, an art director, who in the spring of 1983 were looking for some hook to make a bold statement about the new Macintosh. They remembered the ad and with considerable reworking they put together a storyboard of what would become the 1984 commercial.
This original script described an athletic young woman, chased by helmeted storm troopers, bursting into a dark auditorium in which row upon row of identical workers sit watching an image of ‘Big Brother’ droning on and on. The heroine would smash the screen with a baseball bat (this was later to be changed to a sledgehammer for dramatic effect) and a refreshing burst of fresh air would pass over the workers as they “saw the light.”
Over the closing shot, a voiceover voice would say “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”
The storyboard was presented to Apple’s senior marketing team. John Sculley CEO at the time was a bit apprehensive, but Steve Jobs loved it. It was just the sort of radical idea he thought the Mac deserved, so Chiat/Day were given the go-ahead to shoot the commercial and purchase one and a half minutes of airtime during the upcoming Super Bowl.
As soon as the rough cut was ready, Chiat/Day presented it to Jobs and Sculley. Jobs loved the commercial and Sculley thought it was crazy enough that it just might work. In October, the commercial was shown at Apple’s annual sales conference and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
In late December, marketing manager Mike Murray was tasked with showing the commercial tothe other members of Apple’s Board of Directors: A. C. “Mike” Markkula Jr., Dr. Henry E. Singleton, Arthur Rock, Peter O. Crisp, and Philip S. Schlein.
When the lights came back on Murray and Sculley were in for a surprise. The entire board hated the ad – Markkula was staring in dumbfounded amazement and when he finally spoke it was to ask “Who wants to move to find a new agency?” Sculley recalls, “The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces…Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen.”
The Board wanted the ad killed and told Sculley he ought to sell back the airtime they had bought.
Despite being so close to the date Chiat/Day managed to find a buyer for the 30-second slot immediately but that still left Apple with a 60-second slot for which it had paid $800,000. The backup plan, if they couldn’t find a buyer, was to run ‘Manuals’, a straightforward product-benefit ad.
Jobs however still believed in the ad and decided to seek the support of Steve Wozniak, even though Wozniak normally didn’t like to get involved in political issues. Looking back Wozniak recalled, “One evening I was over at the Macintosh group, which I was about to join, and Steve grabbed me and said ‘Hey, come over here and look at this.’ He pulled up a 3/4-inch VCR and played the ad. I was astounded. I thought it was the most incredible thing.
Then he told me that the board decided not to show it. He didn’t say why. I was so shocked. Steve said we were going to run it during the Super Bowl. I asked how much it was going to cost, and he told me $800,000. I said, ‘Well, I’ll pay half of it if you will.’ I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen.”
Wozniak’s money wasn’t needed in the end; emboldened with this extra support the marketing team decided to go against the board’s recommendation and air the ad. So on January 22, 1984, the controversial commercial aired to an audience of 96 million early in the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII.
The ad was an immediate sensation and generated an estimated $5 million of extra free publicity. All three television networks and nearly 50 local stations aired stories about the spot, most replaying the ad.
Apple fed the media frenzy by announcing that the commercial would never be aired again – which isn’t strictly true. However Chiat/Day had already paid the princely sum of $10 to run “1984” at 1:00 a.m. on December 15, 1983, on a small television station KMVT, thereby ensuring that the commercial would qualify for that year’s advertising awards.
In 1995, The Clio Awards added ‘1984’ to its Hall of Fame, and Advertising Age named it as No.1 on its list of 50 greatest commercials.