Things you probably didn’t know about Apple’s famous ‘1984’ Super Bowl ad that almost didn’t air
Apple almost didn’t air its iconic, dystopian-themed 1984 Super Bowl commercial, former Apple CEO John Sculley tells Business Insider.
However, the commercial successfully made it to broadcast, and it became one of the most celebrated ads in history. The story behind the ad’s production is the subject of the latest episode of Business Insider’s podcast, Household Name. It examines the stories behind how the ad almost didn’t make it on TV, the on-set controversies, and the impact the commercial had on Apple in the 1980s.
In 1984, Apple was developing the Macintosh personal computer, one of the first of its kind. The team at Apple working on the project was forced to move to a new building at the company’s headquarters. The team christened the building by hanging a pirate flag from the roof in honor of one of Steve Jobs’ sayings: “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy.”
Apple decided to produce a commercial for the Macintosh personal computer ahead of its launch, and turned to its go-to ad agency, Chiat/Day. Before creating Apple’s 1984 ad, Chiat/Day had produced earlier low-budget commercials for the company. That includes this commercial from a few years earlier, which features former talk show host Dick Cavett.
The director of the 1984 commercial was Ridley Scott, who has a history of directing dystopian-like movies, such as “Blade Runner,” “Gladiator,” and “Alien.”
The original plan called for the heroine in the ad to hurl a baseball bat — not a sledgehammer — at the Big Brother figure on the screen. However, Scott argued that a sledgehammer was “much more international,” and would be much more effective at breaking a screen in reality.
When casting for the ad’s protagonist, the producers ran into a major problem: The women they brought in to audition were unable to swing the sledgehammer above their heads and chuck it at the screen as intended. The woman they ultimately cast was Anya Major, a British discus thrower.
Most of the estimated 150 bald men in the ad, used to represent conformist society, were actual skinheads. Producers said they cast skinheads since they were less expensive to have in the commercial than profession actors. But the skinheads caused problems on set and made sexist remarks toward Major, the sledgehammer-wielding heroine.
Up until this commercial, Apple ads had cost around $50,000 to produce. The 1984 ad cost $500,000 to create.
The only reason the commercial was able to run was because Chiat/Day was unable to sell back all of the Super Bowl ad spots it had bought. Of the three minutes of ad time purchased, Chiat/Day was only able to sell back two, and so Apple was still responsible for filling the last 60-second spot.