As I was scouring the internet this morning, I ran across an Ad Week post about the famous “1984” Super Bowl commercial from everybody’s favorite, Apple. The article was written by Steve Hayden who served as senior vice president and creative director at Chiat/Day, the agency behind the memorable spot.
As the writer for the spot, Hayden obviously played a huge role in the creation of the piece, which was also directed by another semi-amazing guy named Ridley Scott. Yet with all of that being said, what intrigued me most about the post weren’t the first hand accounts, or any of the behind the scenes drama. No, I just simply couldn’t get over the fact that 27 years later, as we approach yet another Super Bowl, we were still talking about this groundbreaking commercial.
While reading Hayden’s recounts of all of the drama that surrounded production behind the scenes, I began to realize what made this spot so effective. Yes, the commercial was relevant and timeless, but it wasn’t because of the otherworldly talent involved or the brilliance of Apple’s product. And no (gasp), not even because of Steve Jobs. No, what I realized was that the success of this commercial and all other success that Apple has had, all stemmed from two words: taking risks. Even at this stage, the Apple brand and Steve Jobs were all about risk taking. It was as if risks weren’t really risks if they lined up with the goals of the company, and in this specific case, the goal, according to Jobs, involved “making the world stop in its tracks.”
The following paragraphs are from Hayden’s article and, to me, they show exactly why the commercial became so successful:
The “1984” spot nearly died when the client on the shoot refused to sign the estimate for a second day of shooting. O’Neill called me from London again, saying the spot was dead if we couldn’t get two full days of shooting. I had just been promoted to vp at Chiat/Day, therefore becoming an officer of the company. I asked O’Neill if he could proceed on my signature. He said, “Hey, you’re an officer—I can go ahead on your say so. But if it doesn’t work out, you’re fired.” I thought it was a risk well worth taking.
The spot had another brush with death after Mike Murray and Jobs played the spot for the Apple board of directors in the fall of 1983. When the lights came up, Murray reported that most of the board members were holding their heads in their hands, shaking them ruefully. Finally, the chairman, Mike Markula, said, “Can I get a motion to fire the ad agency?” They absolutely hated the spot to a man, and they were all men in those days, but left it to Jobs and Sculley whether to run it or not. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak saw the spot and offered to pay half the cost of running it out of his personal checking account.
After reading this piece I felt like I finally understood what made the ad so successful. You see, when a brand gets to a place where they no longer fear failure, then that is a brand you have to watch out for. And in this particular scenario, the people behind the spot believed so thoroughly in what they were doing, and what the message stood for, that they were willing to risk everything. I’m convinced that even if the ad would have been a complete disaster, Hayden, Jobs and all of those involved would’ve confidently known that they put out a piece that portrayed and evoked the emotions that best represented Apple. “1984” was Apple and Apple was “1984”.
In the end this goes to show us just how powerful and effective the right video at the right time can be. The rest, as they say, is history. So, fast-forwarding to present day, I’m not sure where or when we’ll we see another advertising piece of video that hits people the way “1984” did, but until then, I say we all let let go of our advertising inhibitions and embrace risk.