Apple's 1984 ad
The Chiat/Day advertising agency commissioned Ridley Scott to direct this
60-second advertisement which aired during the 1984 superbowl game. It
heralded the introduction of the Apple Macintosh computer,
but never once showed it, and only mentioned it on-screen (text with voiceover)
for a few seconds at the end:
On January 24, 1984, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh.
And you'll see why 1984 won't be like "1984."
As the text suggests, the theme of the ad was Orwell's dystopian
novel. Drones illuminated by sterile arc-lamp light march in weary step, like
convicts, in identical baggy stripeless concentration-camp tunics and pants
through plastic tunnels to the sound of a haranguing Big Brother.
The air is smoky, or full of ash, and when the drones emerge from the tunnel
they enter a theater whose architecture dwarfs and dehumanizes them. In the
theater, we now see on a giant screen Big Brother giving his speech, while serried
rows of seated drones stare in hopeless obedience at the screen. All colors
are gray, and even the blacks seem washed out: it is a colorless world.
In the background, fighting with the overamplified Big Brother, is what sounds
like an alarm klaxon, and we cut to a beautiful young woman athlete running
down the corridor leading to the theater, a sledge hammer in hand. She is dressed
in a tightly-fitting gymnast's top in brilliant white, bright orange shorts,
white athletic wrist bands, white running socks and red running shoes. Her blond
hair, skin, and clothing are the brightest colors in the entire ad; she is well-endowed
and wears no bra, so that our eyes are drawn (well, men's
eyes, but they are the demographic superbowl ads are aimed at) to her chest, where an early, colorful
Macintosh icon, a stylized little apple sitting next to an equally stylized
Mac box with keyboard, bobs around.
She is being chased by police in riot gear, complete with masks. They carry
truncheons, and are only about 50 paces behind the woman. She runs into the
theater, and, taking up a position close to the screen with Big Brother, she
whirls, launching her hammer into the screen. The only human sound in the commercial
aside from the (arguably inhuman) Big Brother's voice is the woman's cry from
the effort of launching the hammer. Big Brother's face explodes, sending shockwaves
of dust and gas back into the seated drones, who sit dumbstruck (their jaws
depicted exaggerratedly dropped) at this rebellious act. Over the dumbstruck
faces scrolls the text quoted above. At the end, the old multicolored Apple
Computer apple icon flashes briefly.
The scholar Jim Twitchell examined this ad in his worthwhile Twenty Ads
that Shook the World, noting quite rightly that Scott's dystopian world
is right out of 1920s German expressionist film by directors like Murnau and
Lang. He also cogently notes that the Macintosh has as its representative a
woman--indeed, one flaunting her secondary sexual characteristics--whereas the
drones are either androgynous or male
(many of their heads are shaven, and a few have respirator masks over their
faces). Big bad old IBM is a bunch of men, and in male
fashion impose their rigid logic on you; Apple has flexible, iconoclastic, intuitive
power on its side.
The ad did terribly when screened by test audiences, and Apple evidently wanted
to axe it (the ad cost $400,000, and the superbowl time cost half a million
dollars). Twitchell relates that when the board of directors were about to can
the commercial, Woz turned to Jobs and said "I'll
pay for half if you pay for the other half." And so the commercial ran.
Twitchell reprints the script of the ad, which Chiat/Day released. Here is
Big Brother's speech:
For today, we celebrate the first, glorious anniversary of the Information
Purification Directives. We have created, for the first time in all history
. . . a garden of pure ideology . . . where each worker may bloom secure from
the pests of contradictory and confusing truths. Our Unification of Thought
is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people.
With one will. One resolve. One cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to
death. And we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail!
Twitchell, J. 2000. Twenty Ads that Shook the World. (Pp. 184-193.)