The Ultimate Brand Story: Launch of the Apple Mac “1984”

2004 version of Apple Mac ad "1984" - Notice the iPod on hip of actress
2004 version of “1984” ad

On January 22 1984, Steve Jobs (master storyteller) heralded the launch of the Apple Macintosh with a sensational and controversial twist to the traditional 30 second TV spot.

The minute-long movie-style tv commercial (originally intended for the Apple II) was conceived by ad agency Chiat\Day (now TBWA\Chiat\Day). It had a production budget of $700,000 (unheard of at the time) and was directed by Ridley Scott.

The Apple Mac launch advert aired for one time only during the coveted 3rd Quarter spot of  Super Bowl XVIII.

The ad was so groundbreaking at the time that it garnered 5 million dollars in free publicity and numerous awards. It was also used as the opening and closing scenes of  “Pirates of Silicon Valley“, a classic   “docudrama” about Steve Jobs and the rise of Apple.

When it was launched, “the Mac” was touted as the first commercially successful personal computer.  Within 4 months of its launch, 70,000 units were sold at a price tag of $2,495.  However, this wasn’t what made it one of the most successful brand launches in history, the story did…

The 7 elements of a good brand story

Every good brand story should -at least- 7 basic elements; the setting, the characters, the sequence of events, the exposition, the conflict, the climax, and the resolution.  Here’s how this applied to Apple’s launch of the Mac.

1. The Setting

One element common to every good story is the setting; when and where the story takes place.  The Apple Mac story takes place in 1984 in what appears to be future America (or at least the future if IBM had its way).  This is clear from the outset with all the imagery providing homage and a well deserved nod to George  Orwell’s 1949 book,  “1984”.  Genius!

2. The Characters,

The essential characters of any good story are the protagonist and the antagonist; hero and villain.  In the case of Apple’s 60 second spot, the hero is Apple and the villain is IBM.  Simple.

Protagonist (the hero). The protagonist is the hero of the story, every good story has one.  In the case of Apple’s Mac launch, the Mac is the hero.  The Mac is portrayed as the underdog -athletic woman- (played by Anya Major)- who will liberate society from “Big Brother” (IBM).

Antagonist, (the villain). The villain’s role is to counteract the hero and provide the platform for the conflict (see below).  The 1984 ad cleverly portrays IBM as the villain (played by David Graham), although it does not go so far as to say that, all the insinuation point to this. Brilliant!

3. The Plot (Sequence of Events)

Every good story is made up of a sequence or series of carefully arranged events. The way in which these events are ordered create the plot. The plot is all the action that takes place during the story.  The ad depicts the history of the Apple/IBM feud in a cleverly edited sequence of events.

The director cuts back and forth from the large screen of big brother preaching to the comatose public, to the colorful athletic woman running with the brass sledge hammer and being chased by the Big Brother police. This imagery portrays Apple as David the underdog, and IBM as Goliath.  The visuals cannot be more stark. Amazing!

4. The Exposition – Background information on characters or setting

The exposition sets the scene and puts the story into context.  The background to the Apple story including the rivalry against IBM is very well documented, but just in case you don’t know it, watch this clip of Jobs introducing the “1984” Ad, it summarizes it all.

5. The Conflict

The conflict is an element of the plot.  A common conflict in any good story arises when the protagonist (the heroin) is trying to achieve something and the antagonist (the villain) is trying to stop her.

The conflict between Apple and IBM at the time of the airing of the commercial couldn’t have been more intense and cleverly summarised by jobs in the video above.   In a nutshell, IBM was trying to monopolize the PC market and Apple was trying to stop them.

In the 60 second spot, the conflict was cleverly depicted in the sequence of events that sees the blond protagonist being chased by a bunch of “Big Brother” thugs.

6. The Climax

Another element of a plot is the climax. The climax of the story is when the conflict in the plot is resolved, the turning point if you will, when the plot changes for the better.  In most traditional stories, the climax sees the antagonist defeated.

Unlike  Orwell’s “1984”, the climax of Apple’s story ends with the protagonist (the Mac) throwing the sledge hammer and destroying the antagonist (IBM) thereby freeing the public from the grip of Big Brother and the conformity of thought.

7. The Resolution

The resolution is the end of the story.  It occurs after the climax. It is when you learn what happened to the characters after the conflict is resolved.  The resolution of this particular story is Apple wins, IBM loses and the world is liberated from conformity.  The ad ends with the following voice over.

“On January 24th Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’ “

The screen fades to black as the voiceover ends, and the rainbow Apple logo appears signalling the end of the Big Brother era of conformity and the rise of the new dawn of originality and freedom of thought.

Everyone lives happily ever after.  Everyone but IBM that is.

The script to the best brand story ever

[In walk the drones]

“Today we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives.

[Apple’s hammer-thrower enters, pursued by storm troopers.]

We have created for the first time in all history a garden of pure ideology, where each worker may bloom, secure from the pests of any contradictory true thoughts.

Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth.

We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause.

Our enemies shall talk themselves to death and we will bury them with their own confusion.

[Hammer is thrown at the screen]

We shall prevail!



On January 24th Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’

The “1984” ad is considered one of the greatest commercials in the history of advertising and was declared the best Super Bowl ad ever . In 2004 [the ad’s 20th anniversary] it was updated to include an iPod.

And every great story deserves a standing ovation

Apple Today

Today, Apple is no longer the David battling the Goliath.  Apple has become the Goliath.  Regardless, the effect of their 1984 story and the many preceding and subsequent stories Jobs told, still resonate with consumers today.

new apple logoApple’s brand stories (as well as the fanatical design!) ensure that -to this very day- their products remain well perceived by millions of fanatically loyal consumers all over the world.

In a digital world, Apple will most likely continue to tell these stories. Their challenge now however, especially after the passing of their cheif storyteller, will be to convince a new breed of consumer that Apple has not become the new Big Brother.

This is a considerable threat given the debate of open source vs. walled garden strategies of Apple vs Google in the battle to control mobile operating systems.  Here’s what Google’s vice-president of engineering Vic Gundotra said during his May 20, 2010 keynote at the Google I/O Conference in Sydney, California (2.45):

“If Google did not introduce an open-source mobile operating system such as Android, the world faced a draconian future; a future where one man, one company, one device would be our only choice.”

The rhetoric was eerily familiar and clearly referring to Apple’s famous ‘1984’ advertisement.

Apple’s digital strategy will be covered in future posts, stay tuned.

Does Apple’s brand story inspire you? Share below…

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