Steve Jobs is dead; Mac’s 1984 ad lives on

Campaign: 1984
Product: Macintosh
Client: Apple Computers
Director: Ridley Scott
Venue: One-time Super Bowl slot
Rating:

In honour of the death of probably the most influential business leader since Henry Ford, it’s worth looking back once again at probably the most influential TV ad ever made.

The irony, of course, is that the closed nature of Apple products and their adulation by masses of consumers mean the company now more closely resembles the video screen’s totalitarian Big Brother than it does the hot shotput athlete. “A garden of pure ideology … secure from the pests of contradictory thoughts … we are one people, with one will, one resolve, one course … our enemies shall talk themselves to death, but we shall prevail!” Sounds a bit like Apple’s business plan, really.

But there’s no denying that Jobs revolutionised computers by demasculinising, denerding and deodorising them. It’s astounding to think nobody thought of making the physical boxes pretty until Jobs introduced the iMac.

And the 1984 ad is undeniably thrilling, the voice at the end promising a mystery and wonder about the future that is conspicuously lacking in our attitudes today. It epitomises what at that time was the relatively new concept of “positioning”, without even having to name the enemy (which was not yet specifically Microsoft, but rather the “IBM clone”, or generic PC). Plus, it totally pwned the entire cultural trope that had grown up around Orwell’s 1984, right in the heart of the Cold War – thus associating Apple with freedom, rebellion, the virtuous west and hot shotput babes all in one go.

Mac 1984 ad

Apple's Macintosh ad "1984"

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6 Comments

  1. Ilan wrote:

    I think that missing in this analysis is the notion that in order to use the PC Clones, you needed to wrap your brain around DOS. To write software for them, you needed to master C – which is almost a matter of thinking like a computer yourself. The mac’s GUI, which in 1984 didn’t resemble anything seen on a home computer, suddenly made it possible to use a home computer while still thinking like a human. That’s part of the ad’s message that still has continuity with the UX-focused development of Lion and iOS (and the Things that run them) that constitutes Apple today.

  2. Hawkbit wrote:

    Great point. So you think the ad might have been targeted as much at bedroom programmers as at your average consumer? If so, that Super Bowl splash was even more ballsy.

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