The advert is set in an industrial grey landscape with what appears to soldiers marching through a tunnel. A “Big Brother” like voice speaks to his army of drones who continue to march forward. Out of the grey background comes an athlete dressed in uniform with bright red shorts and a white top carrying a sledgehammer. The athlete played by Anya Major runs through the crowds of grey drones into a large auditorium. As the Big Brother is finishing his speech and proclaims ‘We shall prevail!’ the athlete hurls the hammer through the screen. A bright white light projects from the broken screen with a voice over and text reading “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like Nineteen Eighty-Four”.
The ad was directed by Ridley Scott, who five years earlier had risen to prominence with the hit movie Alien. Much like the movie the 1984 ad was ground-breaking in so many ways. The rumoured cost of the ad was $650k, which at the time was unheard off. The then Apple account manager Fred Goldberg tested the ad using a market research company before airing it in the Superbowl slot. The testing results where very disappointing, with even the Apple board of directors claiming to dislike the advert. But this did not deter Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak who were confident of its success.
So how did this become one of the most iconic adverts of all time? There are a few factors which led to this adverts success. Apple was the first company to produce something truly outrageous in advertising during the Super Bowl. The advertisement demanded attention and had amazing production quality for the time. More importantly it was more than just an ad, it was a minute and a half story. It closely mirrored the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four which had been very popular at the time. The “Big Brother” character of the ad represented IBM and their dominance in the personal computer market.
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IBM represented conformity and rules where the Macintosh represented revolution and freedom. The Macintosh was the first personal computer with a graphical user interface that was relatively affordable and easy to use.
The 1984 advertisement helped to position Apple as the innovative company that many of us know and love today. The ad has long since had an impact not just on Apple, but the world of advertising as a whole.
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School