The creative brief for “1984” was simple: Steve Jobs said, “I want to stop the world in its tracks.”

It was the early 80’s and the personal computer market was booming – sales were at an all-time high in a highly competitive marketplace. Many personal computer companies were expanding rapidly, while others were going out of business just as fast.

At the time, IBM (International Business Machines) had entered the personal computer market and had taken over a significant share of the market. Many believed that the only competitor who could give IBM a run for their money was an upstart company known as Apple Computer. They had developed a revolutionary new personal computer called the MacIntosh.

Described as “the computer for the rest of us,” the MacIntosh was a new personal computer with a much more approachable operating system with what was described as, “point-and-click” usability. The Mac’s system of on-screen icons responsive to the hand-guided “mouse” made it a breakthrough in personal computing, especially for non-techies. Now all Apple had to do was to market it and Jobs wanted something inspiring to help launch it; something that was as revolutionary as the product itself.

jobs looks to ad agency chiat/day for help

It was the early 80’s and George Orwell’s dystopian novel,1984, was what a lot of people were talking about – after all, 1984 was only a couple of years away. In 1982, Lee Clow, creative director at Chiat/Day had an idea for a print ad based on Orwell’s book.

We pitched the idea to other computer companies as well as Apple for its Apple II computers, but had no takers. So the idea was shelved.

“Six months before we knew about Mac, we had this new ad that read, “Why 1984 won’t be like 1984,” reveals Clow. We had initially pitched the idea to other computer companies as well as Apple for its Apple II computers. “It explained Apple’s philosophy and purpose; that people, not just government and big corporations, should run technology. If computers aren’t to take over our lives, they have to be accessible.” Chiat/Day had no takers for the concept, so the idea was shelved.

In 1983 the agency decided to revisit Clow’s Orwellian concept as a potential direction for the MacIntosh campaign. The concept was dusted off by Steve Hayden, the agency’s copywriter and Brent Thomas, the art director, both of whom were looking to make a bold statement about the incredible new personal computer. After some considerable reworking, the Chiat/Day team put together a storyboard of the commercial they proposed to shoot.

When the 1984 Orwellian storyline was presented to Jobs, he loved it and encouraged the agency to go for it. Chiat/Day developed the story board, building a mini science fiction story set in a totalitarian, Big Brother-type world.

Apple CEO at the time, John Sculley was a bit apprehensive about the concept – noting that the MacIntosh itself was hardly mentioned. Although Sculley was apprehensive, Jobs insisted that the Mac deserved such a radical spot. They both signed off on the concept and gave authorization to shoot the commercial. They also authorized the purchase of the expensive air time for the upcoming Super Bowl.

ridley scott agrees to direct the spot

Based on the success of his science-fiction films Alien and Blade Runner, Chiat/Day gave Ridley Scott a budget of $900,000 to direct the ‘1984’ spot. The commercial was shot in London with Steve Jobs attending the week of filming. A cast of almost 200 extras were used and an accomplished discus thrower named Anya Major would be the actor for the key, hammer-throw scene. (She was the only one who could throw the hammer accurately).

When a rough cut was assembled, Chiat/Day presented it to Jobs and Sculley. Jobs loved it 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 revolutionary new commercial.

the board of directors hated it

When the commercial was screened for the Board of Directors, they felt very differently about the new TV spot. In fact, most felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. They wondered if they should find a new ad agency and even made the effort to sell off the airtime Apple had purchased for the Super Bowl. They managed to sell off a 30 second spot, however they still had a 60 second spot remaining.

Jobs presented the commercial to Steve Wozniak (the co-founder of Apple). He loved it. Jobs told Wozniak that the Board had decided not to air it and that they wanted to sell off the air time they had purchased for the Super Bowl. Wozniak asked how much it was going to cost to run it during the Super Bowl, Jobs said $800,000. Wozniak replied, ‘Well, I’ll pay half of it if you will.’ Wozniak believed the problem was Apple justifying the expenditure of the air time during the Super Bowl – he had no idea the Board of Directors disliked the concept. Wozniak felt the ad was such great a piece of science fiction that it should have a chance to be seen. Fortunately for Wozniak, some Apple VP’s decided to run the ad anyway and he never had to pay his half.

Any concerns the Apple BoD’s may have had regarding the commercial disappeared seconds after the spot ran. Switchboards immediately lit up at CBS, Chiat/Day, and Apple with calls demanding to know, “What was that?” A.C. Nielson estimated the commercial reached 46.4 percent of the households in America, a full 50 percent of the nation’s men, and 36 percent of the women. Apple sold 72,000 MacIntosh computers in 100 days – 50% more than originally predicted.

watch it here

The 60 second commercial

The seldom seen 30 second commercial

The making of the commercial

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