Apple's '1984' Ad Is 'Overrated,' Guru Regis McKenna Says
Apple's famed "1984" ad, which introduced Apple's Macintosh computer for the first time, is one of the most famous TV commercials of all time.
The ad is modeled on George Orwell's book of the same name and depicts IBM users as mindless, gray robots who can only be saved by an Iconoclast, i.e. Apple, represented here as a beautiful woman who rebels against Big Brother by hurling her hammer through his giant onscreen image.
The spot concludes with the words "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'"
Despite the commercial's enduring fame -- Rick Santorum recently copied it for a campaign commercial -- according to an AdAge interview with Apple's "first marketing guru" Regis McKenna, it failed at its primary purpose, which was to sell Macintosh computers. McKenna, whose firm was the first to handle Apple's advertising and PR needs, told Ad Age:
The ad was more successful than the Mac itself. The Mac was expensive to build, and Apple's margins went negative in 1986. That conflict led to Steve's ouster from Apple[..] The ad set an attitude of rebellion against the status quo, and it probably continues to serve Apple today.
While it may not have been able to combat the Mac's issues, the commercial is broadly credited with establishing Apple's brand identity as that of an opponent to the status quo. With its big name Hollywood director (Ridley Scott) and huge production costs, the ad, which aired during the Super Bowl, also set the bar for the Super Bowl ads that we still enjoy today.
As CNET, which wrote about the 25th anniversary of "1984" in 2009, points out, the ad has become more and more ironic as Apple products like the iPhone and iPad gain a more and more cult-like following among fans. With each Apple release, the lines get longer, the black market prices get higher and the glazed-eyed masses willing to trample each other for a phone, look more and more the same. "As critics of the 'Apple cult' have pointed out, they seem to be willing to believe their fearless leader's every word," CNET writes.
Check out our slideshow below to see 11 more memorable tech ads, and read Ad Age's full interview with McKenna -- which includes his take on marketing startups, Apple's "antennagate" uproar, and the Steve Jobs biography -- right here.