1984 Apple Board Hated “1984”

Most Apple fans are likely to be familiar with the commercial known as 1984 - indeed, a large percentage of people who don’t qualify as “Apple fans” are likely to be familiar with the commercial, but according to the advertising executive who oversaw its creation, Apple’s own board thought the commercial was awful and wanted to fire Chiat/Day, the firm that created it for Apple.

This story comes to us from Steve Hayden, an advertising exec who became a Chiat/Day vice president while the commercial was being created. Mr. Hayden wrote about his experience in creating the ad for Apple for AdWeek, as well as some of the aftermath in working with the company after Steve Jobs left.

According to his account, the ad was born out of a brief for the ad from Steve Jobs that simply said, “I want to stop the world in its tracks.” It was also Steve Jobs that cast IBM in the role of Big Brother in the ad - Mr. Hayden said that the creative team that developed the idea had envisioned a much less metaphorical Big Brother as simply representing any repressive government looking to keep information out of the hands of its citizenry.

For those younger readers, we should add the context that in 1983/1984, the Cold War between the East and West was still raging, and had taken on new urgency as then-president Ronald Reagan was busily sending the Soviet Union into bankruptcy by outspending the Bloc with a massive military buildup the economy U.S.S.R.’s economy simply couldn’t handle.

Big Brother in the book 1984 was the representation of an authoritarian government that watched and controlled everything its population did and said (yes, it’s much more complex than that, but consider that sentence the abridged version of the abridged version of the Reader’s Digest abridged version).

These were important memes running through Western culture at the time (though we didn’t realize that because the term “meme” didn’t yet exist), and this is what the advertising gurus wanted to play off of, according to Mr. Hayden.

“The first version of the spot was more Jetsons than Metropolis,” he wrote. “The intention was to remove people’s fears of technology at a time when owning your own computer made about as much sense as owning your own cruise missile. We wanted to democratize technology, telling people that the power was now literally in their hands.”

Be that as it may, Steve Jobs saw Big Brother as IBM and the rest is history.

Mr. Hayden’s account includes several other tidbits about the commercial (some of which have been covered in books like Owen Linzmayer’s excellent The Mac Bathroom Reader and Apple Confidential 2.0, as well as other sources) that fans of the iconic commercial will find very interesting.