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Apple’s ’84 LEGENDARY Super Bowl ad – and how it very nearly never aired

It is now the stuff of legend, but, that iconic half-time ad was nearly binned. Here’s the full story

Apple Super Bowl 1984 advert

Pirates

Back in 1984, Apple was hard at work putting the finishing touches and polish to their Apple Macintosh machine.

Macintosh, which was only ever supposed to be a project name, required a massive amount of manpower, so much so in fact, that Apple were forced to move to a new headquarters during its development.

Replicating the defining, and rebellious nature of the project, jokingly, the team christened the new building by hanging a pirate’s flag from it. It was also hung as a nod to a comment that Steve Jobs had made – ”it’s better to be a pirate, than join the navy!”.

Making a mark

Apple were quickly becoming masters of clever, quirky, and defining marketing. As a fairly new company, their budgets for ad campaigns were not generally huge – in the region of $50,000, or roughly $140,000 in today’s terms. But the team felt that the Mac required something special.

Apple already had an existing relationship with the Chiat/Day agency, and they briefed them as to what they wanted to achieve with this campaign. A few years previous, Chiat/Day had produced a commercial, that had modest success for the company, which featured the former chat show host, Dick Cavett.

However, this time around, there was budget, BIG budget. Apple were prepared to back their Mac, and this ad, which ended up costing them $500,000 to create.

Chiat/Day turned to Hollywood producer, Ridley Scott, to direct the commercial. Scott had earned his reputation with movies such as Blade Runner, Gladiator, and Alien. It was a sign they clearly meant business.

The theme of the sixty-second commercial was based around George Orwell’s novel, 1984.

Setting the scene

From the opening shot, showing many bald men marching through an elevated tunnel, the atmosphere was laced with intensity, and is if something major was about to break out – brilliant directing.

The ominous blue-grey hue to the visual, was clearly no mistake, either. It created a sense of boredom, coldness, and antipathy. With an Orwellian character lecturing a mantra from a large screen up-front, it’s then we see our heroine, or rebel, for the first time.

A complete opposite to the ‘grey’ masses, she was blond, tanned, and wearing striking red shorts. The analogies throughout are brilliant. She, like the Mac, was about to break free. There’s a couple of interesting side-notes here, though.

At the time this ad was aired, IBM, was the market-leader, and their nickname was Big Blue. The pirate genes deep within Apple’s DNA just couldn’t help themselves but to take a poke at IBM, almost warning them that they were on the warpath.

Scott, also had to decide about the object our rebel girl would launch at the big screen. Originally, she had been story-boarded as welding a baseball bat. Scott’s argument was that a sledgehammer should be used instead, saying it would be far more intentional, and realistic.”

All true, but that switch to the sledgehammer, caused problems, when casting for the lead role. Scott was adamant that it had to be the sledgehammer that would be let rip towards the screen, but none of the actresses who auditioned for the part, could lift it – let alone swing it around, above their heads.

Anya Major, turned out to be their saviour. Anya was a British discus thrower, so had the required strength, and coordination to perform the moves that the director wanted.

Saving money

Even with the big budget available, an eye had to be kept on the spend. With over 150 extras required to fill the roles of the marching, bald men, a choice was made to hire actual skinheads, in place of actors, as they were so much cheaper!

It turned out to cause delays in shooting, though, as the skinheads were rude, sexist to Major, and generally abusive. There were even reports of fights breaking out on set, too.

With the ad finally shot, and edited, it was time to show it to some focus groups, who all unanimously disliked it, citing that it made them feel uncomfortable, and reminded them too much of concentration camps. The results of these focus groups were so awful, that Chiat/Day decided to keep them from the board at Apple.

The ad was always going to be controversial, and it proved to be, even at board level. The board hated it, but luckily, both Steve Jobs & Wozniack, adored it. Jobs saying, ”sht – this is amazing!

Wozniack loved what he was seeing so much, he offered to pay $400,000 of his own money to get it aired at the Super Bowl. In his opinion, this commercial was better than any science fiction movie trailer of the time.

Fate

The ad, after all this, very nearly never got shown at the Super Bowl.

Eventually, the only reason the commercial was able to run was because Chiat/Day was unable to sell back all the Super Bowl ad spots it had bought. They had purchased three minutes of ad time, but Chiat/Day was only able to sell back two. Effectively, the Apple ad, was just a filler for the last 60-second spot.

A little known fact is, though, that the airing through the half-time break at the ’84 Super Bowl, was the first time that the advert had been screened. In the build up to that weekend, it had been run on a few local television stations – not that many people took any notice of it.

The advert, did, of course, prove to be a massive success. It was the ad of the half-time break in the game, and went on to earn Apple around $45 million in free advertising, as the media frenzy on it grew, and grew – thus paying for itself.

The strap-line, delivered by actor, Edward Grover, comes only 10 seconds from the end, and is as memorable today, as it was when first screened;

“On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”

Wrapping up

As we look forward, this weekend to Super Bowl 57, between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, it seemed a timely reminder to look back at this moment in both Apple’s, and the Super Bowl’s half-time history.

If you needed another jolt in the arm, to remind you of how different things are now, how about this…the half-time act in ’84 was Barry Manilow! In Arizona this weekend, it will be Rhianna. Apple has made sure that you can truly get immersed in the half-time goings-on – you’ll be able to experience Rihanna’s catalogue like never before. It will be broadcast in Spatial Audio, you can sing along with Apple Music Sing, and even tune in to Apple Music Radio for expert music commentary.

Times truly have changed, in every way right…

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