40 Years Ago, This Ad Changed the Super Bowl Forever

Four decades ago, the Super Bowl became the Super Bowl.

It wasn’t because of anything that happened in the game itself: On Jan. 22, 1984, the Los Angeles Raiders defeated Washington 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII, a contest that was mostly over before halftime. But during the broadcast on CBS, a 60-second commercial loosely inspired by a famous George Orwell novel shook up the advertising and the technology sectors without ever showing the product it promoted. Conceived by the Chiat/Day ad agency and directed by Ridley Scott, then fresh off making the seminal science-fiction noir “Blade Runner,” the Apple commercial “1984,” which was intended to introduce the new Macintosh computer, would become one of the most acclaimed commercials ever made. It also helped to kick off — pun partially intended — the Super Bowl tradition of the big game serving as an annual showcase for gilt-edged ads from Fortune 500 companies. It all began with the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’s desire to take the battle with the company’s rivals to a splashy television broadcast he knew nothing about.

In recent interviews, several of the people involved in creating the “1984” spot — Scott; John Sculley, then chief executive of Apple; Steve Hayden, a writer of the ad for Chiat/Day; Fred Goldberg, the Apple account manager for Chiat/Day; and Anya Rajah, the actor who famously threw the sledgehammer — looked back on how the commercial came together, its inspiration and the internal objections that almost kept it from airing. These are edited excerpts from the conversations.

JOHN SCULLEY On Oct. 19, 1983, we’re all sitting around in Steve [Jobs’s] building, the Mac building, and the cover of Businessweek says, “The Winner is … IBM.” We were pretty deflated because this was the introduction of the IBM PCjr, and we hadn’t even introduced the Macintosh yet.

STEVE HAYDEN Jobs said, “I want something that will stop the world in its tracks.” Our media director, Hank Antosz, said, “Well, there’s only one place that can do that — the Super Bowl.” And Steve Jobs said, “What’s the Super Bowl?” [Antosz] said, “Well, it’s a huge football game that attracts one of the largest audiences of the year.” And [Jobs] said, “I’ve never seen a Super Bowl. I don’t think I know anybody who’s seen a Super Bowl.”

John Sculley, right, with Steve Jobs in 1984. The ad would promote the company’s new Macintosh personal computer.Credit…Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

FRED GOLDBERG The original idea was actually done in 1982. We presented an ad [with] a headline, which was “Why 1984 Won’t Be Like ‘1984,’” to Steve Jobs, and he didn’t think the Apple III was worthy of that claim.

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