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In Memory of Jef Raskin... He Thought Different

The Making of "1984"



The "Making Of" "Macintosh 1984" advertisement

The ad, the brainchild of the Chiat/Day advertising agency, played well when shown to an sales conference in 1983. But the company's board of directors balked and ordered the ad withdrawn from its Super Bowl slot. Only the intervention of Steve Wozniak, who said he'd pay for the spot personally if the board refused to air it, saved the day.

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). Creative director Lee Clow was responsible for this advertisement.

After Chiat/Day advertising presented the storyboard to Apple, John Sculley was apprehensive, but Steve Jobs insisted that the Mac deserved such a radical spot. They gave the authorization to shoot the commercial and purchase time to air it during the upcoming Super Bowl. On the strength of his successful science-fiction films Alien and Blade Runner, Chiat/Day gave Ridley Scott a budget of $900,000 to direct the 1984 spot

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 but Anya Major (a discus thrower) applied for the part and was chosen.

When the rough cut was assembled, Chiat/Day proudly 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 aired publicly for the first time at Apple's annual sales conference in Honolulu's civic auditorium. The 750 sales reps went wild when they saw the piece.

Jobs and Sculley clearly thought they had a winner on their hands, so in late December, they asked marketing manager Mike Murray to screen the commercial for the other members of Apple's board of directors: A. C. "Mike" Markkula Jr. (Apple founder), Dr. Henry E. Singleton (Teledyne founder), Arthur Rock (venture capitalist), Peter O. Crisp (managing partner in Rockefeller's Venrock Associates), and Philip S. Schlein (CEO of Macy's California).

The original 1984 TV Advertisement


Big Brother Speaks

As 1984 was originally conceived, Big Brother did not have a speaking role, but director Ridley Scott wanted to give him some lines. Copywriter Steve Hayden objected at first, but agreed to put something together when Scott threatened to write the lines himself. Apple vehemently denied that the propaganda-spouting Big Brother character in its 1984 commercial represented its $40-billion competitor, IBM. Decide for yourself as you read Big Brother's harangue from the full-length, 60-second commercial:

"My friends, each of you is a single cell in the great body of the State. And today, that great body has purged itself of parasites. We have triumphed over the unprincipled dissemination of facts. The thugs and wreckers have been cast out. And the poisonous weeds of disinformation have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Let each and every cell rejoice! For today we celebrate the first, glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directive! 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 a more powerful 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!"

When the lights came back up after the spot played, the room on De Anza Boulevard was silent. Schlein was sitting with his head on the table. Markkula stared in amazement. Murray thought Markkula was overcome by the wonderful commercial until he broke the silence 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. Not a single outside board member liked it.".

Based on their initial reaction, Apple executives booked two slots during the upcoming Super Bowl. However, the Apple board of directors was dismayed by the ad and instructed management not to show it and sell the slots. Despite of the board's dislike of the film Steve Wozniak watched it and offered to pay for the spot personally if the board refused to air it.

A perhaps apocryphal story has Apple only able to sell one slot and then deciding that they might as well use the other and show the ad. It aired at the first commercial break after the second-half kick-off.

In reality, the reason the commercial was saved from total cancellation was the result of an act of defiance and an act of bravado. According to the book The Mac Bathroom Reader by Owen Linzmayer:

The board hadn't demanded the commercial be killed, nonetheless Sculley asked Chiat/Day to sell back the one and one half minutes of Super Bowl television time that they had purchased. The original plan was to play the full-length, 60-second 1984 spot to catch everyone's attention, then hammer home the message during a subsequent commercial break with an additional airing of an edited 30-second version.

Defying Sculley's request, Jay Chiat told his media director, Camille Johnson, "Just sell off the thirty." Johnson laughed, thinking it would be impossible to sell any of the time at so late a date, but miraculously, she managed to find a buyer for the 30-second slot. That still left Apple with a 60-second slot for which it had paid $800,000.

The decision whether to run the commercial was left to VP of Marketing William V. Campbell and Executive VP of Marketing and Sales E. Floyd Kvamme. In the end, the two decided to run the commercial.

The sledgehammer (here blurred by motion) is thrown into the air at the screen by the allegorical heroine. Despite costing $900,000 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.

' From the book Apple Confidential:

The famous "1984" commercial that launched the Macintosh during the Super Bowl in 1984 is purported to have been shown only once; but to qualify for 1983's advertising awards, the commercial also aired on December 15 at a small TV station in Twin Falls, Idaho, and in movie theaters for weeks starting on January 17th.

Even with this limited appearance, the ad created such a media frenzy that it gained many subsequent free TV airings and print mentions as it was discussed in the media. At the time Nielsen ratings estimated that the commercial reached 46.4 percent of American households (50 percent of all men and 36 percent of women.) These tactics are part of what made the commercial so influential in marketing circles; it is now seen as the first example of event marketing, and is popularly credited with starting the trend of yearly "event" Super Bowl commercials.

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