January 23, 2014

The Super Bowl spot that changed the world

Happy 30th birthday, Mac.

Happy 30th birthday, Mac.

I had the TV on Sunday morning as I sat down to write about an Advertising Age article claiming that 80% of Super Bowl ads flop. In the background I hear Charles Osgood, host of CBS Sunday Morning, mention that this week marks the 30th anniversary of Apple’s famous “1984” Super Bowl commercial. A commercial that ran only one time, mind you. That is the antithesis of a Super Bowl ad flop. Thirty years later and people are still talking about it. Amazing. Do you think that in 2043 people will be marking the anniversary of the Go Daddy commercial in which supermodel Bar Refaeli makes out with the nerdy Walter? Not very likely.

The one-minute commercial — directed by noted director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator) — was made for a then-unheard-of production budget of $900,000. It went on to garner millions of dollars worth of free publicity, as news programs rebroadcast it that night. It was quickly hailed by many in the advertising industry as a masterwork. Advertising Age named it the 1980s “Commercial of the Decade,” and it continues to rank high on lists of the most influential commercials of all time. “1984” was never ever broadcast again, adding to its mystique.

On January 24, two days after the commercial ran, the first Apple Macintosh went on sale to the public. This beige beauty (Pantone number 453, if you care) was the first mass-marketed personal computer to feature a mouse. It also came loaded with a blazing-fast 128K RAM of memory, a sweet 9” black-and-white monitor and a not-so-easy-on-the-wallet price tag of $2,495. That’s in 1984 dollars! But to be fair, it did come bundled with MacWrite and MacPaint.

I recently came across an old agency phone list from 1988. (I know. I really should clean my office more often.) The list included a number for the “computer room.” Back then AB&C was the proud owner of four Mac II computers. These were shared by everyone in the agency. The creative world of art directors, designers, writers, photographers, musicians and filmmakers helped make Apple and the Mac what they are today. Just walk through any advertising agency, photo studio, recording studio or video production house. You’ll find Macs everywhere.

And to think it all started with a commercial that ran only once. Happy 30th birthday, Mac. I couldn’t have written this without you.