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Case Studies: Apple 1984 Super Bowl commercial

No one can be a master of their industry without looking at what came before. Even The Beatles and Bob Dylan had to take inspiration from what came before. You might find that wandering around the Louvre inspires you to pick up a paintbrush, so why wouldn’t looking at our most famous marketing campaigns trigger a lightbulb above your head? So, if you’re looking for inspiration for your marketing campaign, we’re going over some of the most famous and influential marketing campaigns in modern history. And what better advert to start with than the brilliant, the award-winning, the innovative, Apple 1984 Super Bowl commercial?

What is Apple 1984?

When Apple was just a baby tech business and not yet the tech giant we have today, it had something up its sleeve. The Apple Macintosh: the original Apple computer. Not yet in a brightly coloured box, it was a bulky thing and everything you would expect from a computer in the 80’s. But, as the marketing campaign pointed out, it was a revolutionary step forward in technology. A home computer.

And it was the focus of a Ridley Scott-directed advert that aired during the 1984 Super Bowl XVIIII. The director of Alien and Blade Runner brought all his sci-fi influence to this advert.

In a washed-out, metal world, lines of men in prison jumpsuits take their seats in a hall, where Big Brother is monologuing to them from a massive screen. Amongst the silence, the doors to the hall open, and otherwise unnamed athlete Anya Major strides into the room. Running down the aisles in orange shorts and a tank top with a symbol of the Apple Mac on it, she eventually comes to a stop and takes aim. Swinging a sledgehammer, she spins and throws it at Big Brother just as he is pontificating that “We shall prevail!” And the dictator is dead in a puff of smoke and shattered glass.

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

The message

Big Brother is destroyed, convention is destroyed, and the future will change forever and this advert will live on far past its year in the spotlight.

A particularly interesting quote from the Apple ad campaign both for its light on the message of the advert but also its irony, goes: “There are monster computers lurking in big business and big government that know everything from what motels you’ve stayed at to how much money you have in the bank. But at Apple, we’re trying to balance the scales by giving individuals the kind of computer power once reserved for corporations.”

The lesson

But the real point of the marketing campaign was for Apple to establish itself as the clear opponent to IBM. The two companies were fighting it out in a computer version of the space race, and while IBM was filling office spaces, Apple was appealing to the general public.

And it was smart how they went about that. They could have gone down the same route as this insulting Microsoft advert, which was supposed to appeal to the masses but ultimately just insulted anyone who wasn’t a male in a corporate job by depicting them as too stupid to know what they had to do with this expensive paperweight. The difference in those two examples is about 30 depressing years by the way.

No, instead they said that everyone should have a computer. Didn’t know how to use it? You’ll learn. Didn’t know what it could do? Apple would teach you.

Again, ironic, since nowadays Apple seems to be in a class war with itself trying to make sure they take as much money from only those that can afford their tech nowadays, but we digress. If nothing else it speaks to the power of a strong message.

What can we take into the future?

Well, we’re well past 1984 despite the uptake in sales throughout 2016-2020, but there’s still a lot to gain from this advert. It’s the first edition in this series for a reason: it did all the basics spectacularly well. What a film director can do when they’re hired to make adverts.

Despite the spectacle and iconography of the advert, the real lesson is in the message. Be careful of the message you send. You might be aiming to simply trample your opposition, but how do you then do that? Politicians around the world would tell you to have the masses behind you.

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