Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Best Superbowl Spot Ever: Apple 1984

With the Super Bowl coming up in 72 hours or so, let's take a look at what, to me, is hands down and without rival, the best Super Bowl tv spot ever. Apple 1984, which ran January 22nd, 1984, introduced the world's first Macintosh and immediately took the world by storm.

What's usually not considered in any discussion like this is the competitive context this spot appeared in: Apple had introduced the Apple II in 1977 which became in many people's minds the first mass market, popular personal computer. The introduction of spreadsheets for the Apple II drove the computer into the home and small business market. IBM, then the mainframe computer company accustomed to dictating "Big Brother" style to its users, made the radical decision to take a small group of IBM engineers, sequester them in Boca Raton with the charge of developing a competitor to the Apple II quickly...not confined by the typical circuitous, bureaucratic IBM development cycle. IBM launched their first PC, together with LOTUS Accounting software, on August 12, 1981 with a wily advertising campaign featuring the "Little Tramp" Charlie Chaplin figure which warmed up the cold IBM corporate image and was used to demonstrate how easy the computer was to use.

IBM immediately legitimized the market and was instantly carried by new IBM PC stores...and Computerland stores which sold both Apple and IBM products.

By summer 1983, six months before the 1984 Super Bowl, the IBM PC was on backorder and supplies were so low that the company suspended advertising for most of the summer and early fall. At the same time, IBM continued work on their top secret "home" computer, ultimately called PCjr which was to launch with a 1984 Super Bowl commercial featuring Chaplin in home use...sweet little Charlie continuing to interact with his PCjr, introduced from a baby carriage.

I worked on the IBM PC account as a very young kid (the source of much of the background for this entry) at the time and little did any of us every expect to see the spot which Apple, their agency Chiat Day and director Ridley Scott unleashed on the world that January 22, 1984.

This spot strikes back with a glorious competitive and imaginative vengeance never seen before on a Super Bowl and never quite seen since. IBM is equated to Big Brother (they were know at the time as Big Blue). Hordes of shackled workers/prisoners shuffle toward the telescreen to hear IBM's indoctrination. They are the faceless, lifeless corporate workers who have no choice but to use the BORING computers IBM produces (forget that cute little Charlie Chaplin, please...this Big Brother world is the real IBM).

Apple presents a vivid, athletic and vivacious aggressive woman who destroys Big Brother and liberates his followers with a remarkable javelin throw, setting the business world free for a truly innovative, easy to use personal computer. that's the backstory...why is this the best?

1. No other spot has ever created such a frightening and exhilarating self-contained world.
2. No other spot has ever been as competitive...or as violent.
3. This is the most beautiful Super Bowl spot ever shot. Gorgeous sets, beautiful lighting, an enormous range of gray tones.
4. The powerful and sexy javelin thrower is a brilliant choice to destroy Big Brother.
5. No ever spot has been as successful at reversing a rival's ad campaign, sending IBM right back to the position they were trying to escape from with Chaplin. Apple bursts right into the lucrative business market. The IBM PC (for business) was on back order and trumpeting a jr computer (why, why, call it that??)
6. And what a way for Apple to enter the business market. They're still there with the a whole line of innovative laptops while IBM no longer even manufactures personal who has the last laugh now. Well...this was just written on my MacBook Pro.
7. The spot was the first Super Bowl blockbuster. Many followed.
8. Viral...well, in retrospect, this was the one of the forerunners of viral.

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This is a modified version of an entry originally written two years ago for The New Advertising.


Chip said...

Scott, perfect. The spot was riveting when it ran, and has the same power today. Thanks for posting.

There are only a handful of commercials that are as memorable in the history of our business: "Spicy Meatball" "Where's the Beef" "Funeral (VW)" "Gorilla." Perhaps I'm a bit biased, but I think Roy's work holds up pretty well.

Daisy Whitney said...

Just watched it. Quite chilling and indeed powerful.

jaymesleavitt said...

This was an awesome Ad. I remember when I first saw it I was blown away...and very curious about the mac! I was just a teen at the time...

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