1984 Part 2? Bad Idea

by Gregory Ng Dec 19, 2003

“On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh and you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.” Sound familiar? If you are an Apple enthusiast you know it. If you were born before 1984 and are a football fan, chances are, you know it. If you are in the advertising industry you certainly know it.

In the third quarter of the Super Bowl in 1984, Apple aired their revolutionary ad for the first and last time, 1984, introducing the world to the Macintosh. But for those who missed it, or heck, weren’t even born yet, you will get a chance to see the sequel. It was announced that TBWA/Chiat/Day, the advertising agency for Apple since its inception, is creating an ad in homage to the legendary ad in 1984. Marking its 20th anniversary, TBWA/Chiat plans to do something revolutionary again. I certainly hope that whatever they do, it does not directly relate to the original ad. I don’t think Apple would be so dumb. This is the company that won the 2004 Advertising Age’s Marketer of the Year Award. But with the 20th Anniversary making everyone feel teary with nostalgia and pride, I could see the temptation to make reference to the original ad. This would be a huge mistake. Here’s why.

The brilliance of the first ad was all about timing. The ad came out at a time when personal computing in every household was barely on the horizon. People had options, but most of all they had questions. People related personal computing in terms of their IBM machinesessentially green text on a black screen. But the public hadn’t seen anything yet like the Macintosh yet. This ad successfully fed into the desire to “break the mold” using the backdrop of George Orwell’s book, 1984. And let’s face it, launching in 1984 made it all come together. After all, would it have been as memorable if the ad read, “You’ll see why 1986 won’t be like 1984.”?! What would have made 1986 contrived, would make referencing 2004 senseless.

Super Bowl Ads
In recent years, watching Super Bowl ads have been as much if not more exciting than the game itself. But this was not always the case. Sure, in 1984, there were quite a number of people watching the game but nowadays an ad during the big game can become memorable for years.

As Apple is building market share, one of the key targets are high school and college age kids. These are the people wanting iPods. These are the people seeing someone on TV using an iMac and wanting to have one. But when the 1984 ad aired, some of these kids weren’t even born yet. The best thing about sequels are their ability to continue a story. To benefit from the plot or character development already completed in the original, and build upon and extend that relationship to the viewer. But if most of the target audience was not even born yet, how could Apple even think about making this work successfully. And if they are spending $3 million on a Super Bowl spot, wouldn’t it be a better use of money to sell iPods or the iTunes Music Store?

George Orwells 1984
Before 1984, this book was meaningful, even scary to some people. With the electronic age coming to fruition in the early 80s, it got even scarier. After 1984 came and went however it has lost its impact. It is always feasible to imagine a world, however outrageous it may seem, when it is in the future. But once that time has passed, it’s almost saying, “Ok, you were wrong” what’s next? I am not downplaying the significance this book has had nor the vision that Orwell wrote about, but I think it is not culturally relevant anymore. Case in point, the successful reality TV show on CBS, named Big Brother. This show puts 15 strangers into a house and has cameras watch their every move. I would bet for most people, especially the coveted college age demographic, the significance of the name flies right over their head.

In 1984, Apple was about to unveil a truly revolutionary product. Imagine seeing an object right there in front of you on the computer screen. And better yet, it was an object that you created with your mouse and keyboard. Apple, in their print ads, used a drawing of a shoe to illustrate this. Now you can draw a shoe, place it in a document with text describing it, and print it out. All WYSIWYG. Apple was selling the category and the product of personal computing. But since then, the category is already sold. So all that is left is selling the product. Processors get faster, hard drives get larger, and computers get smaller. But it is all just a computer now. When Apple started advertising for the new G5s, the overall message was not that it was a computer that no one has ever seen before. Rather it was marketed as the fastest computer in the market. Why? Because by trying to sell the G5 as a revolutionary new platform, with advancements in engineering, you would receive a great big, “Who cares? Is it faster?” That is not a bad thing. It shows what motivates people to upgrade their computers. But unless Apple has kept a really huge secret, there will be no such revolutionary advancements announced in January. Believe me, I hope that I’m wrong.

It seems lately, that everyone is talking about Apple these days. Apple is a hot company right now for one reason alone: The iPod. And because of that, more and more PC users are seeing the light and more and more Apple users are gloating that we told them so. The huge iPod and iTunes ad campaign has flooded the community and has created a brand presence. Apple is now viewed as accessible to everyone. Not just to the snobby die-hard Mac users. But by producing a highly conceptual ad, there is a chance that it could backfire. Apple cannot afford for people to “not get it”. Especially in such a high profile ad space. It’s time for everyone to get it.

I have the utmost confidence that this upcoming Super Bowl ad is going to be simply amazing. Let’s just hope in an attempt to acknowledge accomplishment, it does not alienate potential buyers.


  • I hated the original 1984 commercial. I know it was cool and all that and looking at it now it was an amazing commercial but I don’t think it had much to do with selling the Macintosh. Commercials need to sell stuff. I am sick and tired of the slick abstract commericals have. The latest ipod commercials are a good example. The only feature they point out is 10,000 songs in your pocket. What about the itunes music store? The remote, playlists, contacts, games, everything. Instead we just get sillohettes of people dancing. Gimme a break.

    bobby had this to say on Dec 19, 2003 Posts: 15
  • Picture the 1984 ad starting the same way. Then instead of the woman appearing with a sledge hammer you see Will Farrell walking down the aisle handing out iPods and Pepsis. Then the huge Big Brother is interupted by the distraction of the “slave” people asking for iPods… I’ll let you think of an ending.  ;o)

    Podster had this to say on Dec 19, 2003 Posts: 1
  • bobby - there was a whole age of advertising that focused on features and not brand… and then there was a sea change to advertising the brand. Once products become commodity items - brand becomes more important than features.

    The reason that the “1984” ad was considered revolutionary was that personal computers were part of an emerging market - and computers were advertised by their technology features. Chiat/Day and Apple broke through and realized that the public were afraid of this technology:  - The public instead wanted to trust a brand (1980’s “1984” commercial) and believe the brand (1990’s Think Different). It didn’t matter that this was a new product and a nascent market… brand trumps features - and this will find itself true time and time again.

    One can say in the new millennium - Apple is innovating again in advertising by making the public _want_ the brand: Lickable Aqua, Titanium laptops, Supercomputers, World’s fastest computer, and other superlatives of the last 4 years.

    Nathan had this to say on Dec 20, 2003 Posts: 219
  • “1984”—genius advertising
    I am confident that Chiat will
    produce something spectacular,
    however I do hope that it is more in
    line with the style of 1984 and not
    the likes of the switcher ads—that
    image of Apple is not that interesting

    No matter what you do, how you do it,
    or when you do it—there will always be
    people who just don’t get it

    case in point, bobby

    pants had this to say on Dec 22, 2003 Posts: 1
  • I think 9 times out of 10, Apple’s commercials and ads are worthless. But, then, I’m not that smartest individual, and I’ m also a bit nuts… Sort of. Not really.

    I may have said this before, but Apple is cursed by its advertising. Every “new and original” thing it unleashes (most of which are not new or original) is very soon, if not immediately, bastardized by the PC world at large. 17” backlit-key laptop? *yawn* Extremely use-to-use portable music player/hard drive? Next.

    Do you see what I mean? Their innovation is their problem. So many people would just settle for that generic, cheap, grey box.. And Apple refuses to acknowledge that. I’m not saying I want a Mac that looks like a PC! But someone might… And it doesn’t do much good to maintain an elitist, niche market in a world that, apparently, doesn’t understand your products.

    Waa had this to say on Jan 05, 2004 Posts: 110
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