George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four gave postwar Americans a taste of what would happen if socialism prevailed over Europe after World War Three. It gained popularity rapidly, and because it was published in 1949, some 35 years before the year 1984 occurred; the storyline of the novel was exploited by Apple Computers for their 1984 release of the Apple Macintosh personal computer. The 1.6 million dollar television commercial was aired during one of the most popular television events in America, and used the tried and true marketing technique of highlighting basic attributes of human community in order to convince the viewer to purchase the unit.
The television commercial first aired during a break in the third quarter of the 1984 Super Bowl. Owen Linzmayer, in his book The Mac Bathroom Reader, wrote that “A.C. Nielson estimated the commercial reached 46.4 percent of the households in America, a full 50 percent of the nation's men, and 36 percent of the women” (14) . Although no exact source or empirical evidence was cited in his book, the fact that Apple spent $800,000 for the 60-second slot of time and another $800,000 to hire Ridley Scott (director of Black Hawk Down, Gladiator) to develop it gives some substance to his claim. This was one of history's largest marketing developments.
The commercial begins with a squad of law enforcement officers in full riot gear pursuing an unidentified woman. She is blond, rather busty, and wearing red shorts with a white tank top- a sharp contrast from everybody around her. Except for her, everyone is in uniform. It might be worth noting that she is wielding an enormous sledgehammer. The setting seems to be in some sort of futuristic underground complex, with much of the chase scene taking place in a brightly lit concrete tube. The unnamed heroine reaches the end of the tube and runs into a dark theater filled with seemingly robotic laborers watching a giant face give a speech on a mammoth display. The face on the screen, and even the setting of the theater, is reminiscent of Orwell's Big Brother giving a speech at the “two minutes hate”. She whirls the sledgehammer around in a circular fashion (accompanied by an appropriately lame 80's sound effect) to gain momentum, then lets it sail towards the large projected display with a very feminine grunt. The sledge slams into the face and an explosion of white emits from the projector-like screen, at which point the camera focuses on the dusty crowd of laborers, with gaping mouths of astonishment. The only words in the advertisement are now scrolled and narrated in a strikingly dramatic voice; “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984'.”
This advertisement is typical of Apple Computer's marketing ventures. They appeal to basic senses of identity, image, belonging, and security. Even twenty years later, Apple is still catering to the same appeals—an indication of its marketing strength in the industry.
In Jib Fowles piece, “Advertising's Fifteen Basic Appeals”, he highlights marketing techniques in use by advertisers, one of them being the need to achieve. The heroine is one tiny blond woman, in the midst of a working army of men- yet she is the only one capable of an act of defiance against the state. This goes to show that people of all shapes, sizes and genders are capable of achieving something huge; it is effective even if only symbolic. This reflects one aspect of American community; the democratic state we live in affords an equal social opportunity to all.
What of the slack-jawed drones who are seen marching into and then gawking in unison at the Big Brother-like figure in the theater? Their dust covered faces match the dull, gray uniforms they wear. They represent what sociologist Max Weber described as the “disenchantment of the world”. Weber explains that the growing bureaucratic administrations are creating a world that is more interested in the ritualistic process of the business machine rather than the creation of a life with emotional purpose and fulfillment. When the woman breaks the screen in a violent flash of white light, she is literally and figuratively showing the workers the light. What the viewer is to imply from the advertisement is that if he wants to break free from the dull and disenchanted community that has been brought about by globalization, he must buy an Apple Macintosh. The last lines of the advertisement “see why 1984 won't be like '1984'”, direct the viewer to believe that living in an Orwellian dystopian community can be avoided only with the purchase of a Macintosh personal computer unit.
The Big Brother looking face on the telescreen was supposed to depict Apple's main competitor, the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), who caters computers to the business world. It is important to note that by 1982, IBM controlled the majority of the computing industry. The idea behind hurling the sledgehammer at the screen is to show that the dull, boring life where IBM computers are in the spotlight is about to be crushed by the artsy, entertainment based Macintosh system. In a sense this applies to the watcher's identity. Ted Friedman, professor of communications at Duke University described the commercial as Apple's solution to “combat conformity and assert individuality” in one of his essays (par.4). The advertisement tells the viewer that they have been forced to live in this rigid bureaucratic police state, and the only way to become free from the shackles of rationality is by purchasing a Macintosh computer.
In some ways this is true- since the Macintosh advertised in the commercial was one of the first publicly available computers to utilize a graphical user interface (GUI). The user of a Macintosh will feel like an expert computer operator, since the GUI allows for point and click operation. Previous text based operating systems required extensive knowledge of thousands of different codes, and the main display on the computer consisted of little more than a green screen with sparse English and dense code. This newly available technology allowed people with little to no knowledge of computers to at least be able to communicate with the system. It makes the user feel as if he belongs to a certain community of intelligent, trendy computer operators- a direct appeal to a person's natural necessity to feel as if they belong to something important.
Although Apple’s modern advertising campaign is far different then the commercial run during the 1984 Super Bowl, they still maintain a powerful marketing presence in the computing industry. Many of their fans have picked up Apple products because they were successfully marketed as trendy or fashionable- direct appeals to the things that affect people the most; their sense of community belonging. Apple has become the producer of accessories for a flamboyant crowd of trend-whores. Ironically, they are actually contributing to the rationalization and disenchantment of our community.
Apple's 1984. Dir. Ridley Scott. Apple Computers, 1984.
Behrens, Laurence, and Leonard J. Rosen. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. Brief ed. Pearson Longman, 2007.
Blair, Eric A. Nineteen Eighty Four. London: Secker and Warburg, 1949.
Friedman, Ted. "Apple's 1984." Oct. 1997. Dept. of Comm., Duke U. 07 Feb. 2008 <http://www.duke.edu/~tlove/mac.htm>.
Linzmayer, Owen. The Mac Bathroom Reader. Sybex Inc, 1994. CurtMedia. 10 Feb. 2008 <http://www.curtsmedia.com/cine/1984.html>.
Weber, Max. Ancient Palestine: Society and Religion. 1917. Google Books. 20 Feb. 2008 <www.books.google.com>.