Steve Jobs' 1984


In 1949, novelist George Orwell predicted that we would be dictated by the whims of an all-powerful overlord called Big Brother by 1984. This was the year that Steve's Mac was unveiled. To exploit the opportunity, Steve spared no expense, nor metaphor on advertising. It is fair to say that Apple commercials are essentially Steve’s commercials. Advertising man, Ken Segall, explains that Steve is like no other client. He doesn’t merely relegate advertising to some guy and say ‘call me when it’s done’. Steve’s hands are all over the crafting of any Apple commercial.[1] His marketing style involves a theatre cast with a hero (him) and a villain (a wealthier competitor). 

He enlisted one of the world's greatest film directors, Ridley Scott, to direct the first Mac TV commercial. The one-minute epic was to be shown during the most coveted and expensive timeslot - the Super-Bowl. Before the commercial was aired, Steve previewed it to a select audience. He announced to his faithful,

"It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers initially welcoming IBM with open arms now fear an IBM dominated and controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right?"[2]

“NO!” screamed the frenzied crowd. The commercial's plot centred upon a nameless heroine who rebels against Big Brother - symbolising IBM. She is the one bright spark of colour in a drab world of conformity. She is the outrage of the few against the tyranny of the many. She is the Macintosh personified. '1984' won five hall-of-fame awards over the next two decades. The commercial shared the same shameless grandiosity we saw the previous year with Michael Jackson's music clip, Thriller. It was a call to arms to both Apple staff and customers. Apple had smeared its face with rainbow war paint in a battle with IBM. It was a battle that IBM weren't too concerned about anyway. They were soon shipping Windows-loaded units that did everything the Mac did and more.

Despite his well-choreographed stand against industrial fascism, a much more covert Big Brother than IBM was employing Steve’s symbol of rebellion. Within a year of the Mac  commercial, Steve watched a secret video tape prepared for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff eyes only. He discovered that every US nuclear weapon in Europe was being aimed using his computers. The revelation deflated Steve's lofty hopes that his Apple would change the world for the better. This is a man who loved to quote the famous pacifist John Lennon. Steve saw only one silver lining in this cloud: at least they weren't using Radio Shack.[3]


[1] Bloomberg (2010). Corporate Philanthropy's Biggest Givers. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/interactive_reports/philanthropy_corporate.html

[2] Macworld (2006) Macintosh is 22 today. Macworld.com. Retrieved from http://www.macworld.co.uk/news/index.cfm?NewsID=13674&Page=1&pagePos=2

[3] Sheff, D. (1985, February 1) Playboy Interview: Steven Jobs. Playboy Magazine.

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