Even after 30 years, Apple’s TV spot that echoed George Orwell’s “1984” remains to be one of the greatest and most memorable advertisements in history.
1984 has been credited time and again as the one that paved the way for the then relatively-unknown Apple Inc. Created to promote the launch of the Apple Macintosh personal computer on January 24, the ad was the brainchild of Chiat\Day (nowTBWA\Chiat\Day) creative director Lee Clow, art director Brent Thomas, and copywriter Steve Hayden. No less than Ridley Scott, who two years prior released his dystopian sci-fi box-office hit “Blade Runner,” was tasked to direct the advertisement produced by New York’s Fairbanks Films. With a budget of $ 900,000.00, it’s one of the most expensive TV ads in history.
Many pegs the debut of this TV ad sometime during the third quarter of that year’s Super Bowl held on January 22 – it was long before Super Bowl became synonymous with epic TV spots, just like how we know it today – however, this technically wasn’t the first time it ever aired. A few weeks earlier, on December 31, it premiered just shortly before midnight on a Twin Falls, Idaho-based TV station apparently because Chiat\Day wanted it to qualify for an ad competition. In addition, contrary to popular belief, the ad didn’t air only once – in fact, 1984 also ran in theaters before movie trailers. In addition, a 30-seconder was aired “in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM’s PC division,” said Hayden.
1984 starred English athlete and actress Anya Major as a nameless runner and actor David Graham as the imposing Big Brother-like figure. Since Apple’s biggest rival at the time was IBM, it has been suggested that Big Brother was a metaphorical representation for it. There’s a quote from a 1983 keynote address by Steve Jobs that appeared to confirm this, although it was also argued allegedly by Clow that, as quoted by Adelia Celini for Macworld in 2004, “the original concept was to show the fight for the control of computer technology as a struggle of the few against the many.”
Although 1984 has practically cemented its legendary status, did you know that its conception can only be described as chaotic? Apparently, it almost didn’t run at all because, save for Jobs and his marketing team, Apple’s Board of Directors reportedly disliked it so much that one of them went as far as suggesting that Chiat\Day be fired. Co-founder Steve Wozniak was said to have been so concerned that he actually offered to pay half of the airtime costs. But in the end, 1984 aired and the rest, as they say, is history.
Like this article? Check out more stories from our Today in History series in the Lomography magazine!