Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Apple's 1984 Commercial

In the third quarter of the 1984 Super Bowl, a strange and disorienting advertisement appeared on the TV screens of the millions of viewers tuned in to the yearly ritual. The ad opens on a gray network of futuristic tubes connecting blank, ominous buildings. Inside the tubes, we see cowed subjects marching towards a cavernous auditorium, where they bow before a Big Brother figure pontificating from a giant TV screen. But one lone woman remains unbroken. Chased by storm troopers, she runs up to the screen, hurls a hammer with a heroic grunt, and shatters the TV image. As the screen explodes, bathing the stunned audience in the light of freedom, a voice-over announces, "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like "1984."

The 60-second film was created by the advertising agency Chiat/Day, with copy written by Steve Hayden and direction by Ridley Scott (who had just finished filming Blade Runner).The film was shot in London and most of the actors were British skinheads hired for the day at a cost of 125 USD each as the director was unable to find enough actors prepared to shave their heads. The original script had suggested a baseball bat but this was later revised to a sledgehammer. The weight of the hammer made it difficult to cast the part of the runner until Anya Major (a discus thrower) applied.

So, what exactly made the commercial so compelling to so many viewers? The production values, of course, were amazing. Nobody had ever spent the money to make a commercial look as good as a big-budget movie. "1984" changed all that. Today, few Hollywood blockbusters can match the gloss of the most expensive commercials for major multi-national corporations.

But few commercials have ever been more influential. The commercial is frequently voted top in surveys of influential marketing campaigns. For example, Advertising Age named it the 1980s "Commercial of the Decade", and in 1999 the US TV Guide selected it as number one in their list of "50 Greatest Commercials of All Time". You can still see its echoes today in futuristic ads for technology and telecommunications multinationals such as AT&T, MCI, and Intel.

Despite costing $800,000 USD to make and a further $800,000 of air time, the film was originally shown nationally only once. However, it was aired on television one other time.

I leave you with a parody of this commercial, shown in an episode of Futurama!

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