Big Brother is Watching You FaceTime: 30 Years After “1984”

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

On January 22, 1984, what is widely regarded as one of the greatest television advertisements of all time aired during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII. The one-minute spot is a postmodern representation of George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel, 1984, which depicts a futuristic totalitarian society stripped of all freedom and individualism.

In 1983, Apple and IBM battled for market share as the two giants in the computer industry selling over one billion dollars of PCs that year. In 1983, at his company’s keynote address, Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs made clear that IBM is a fierce competitor gunning to dominate the industry.

“Dealers initially welcoming IBM with open arms now fear an IBM dominated and controlled future…they are increasingly and desperately turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom.”–Steve Jobs, 1983

During his address, Jobs unveiled the ad to an exclusive audience for the first time, to thundering applause. The ad, created by Chiat/Day, ultimately positions Apple and Mac as empowering, liberating, and individualistic, unlike the IBM view that computers are nothing more than tools. IBM is gray, cold, mechanical. Apple is colorful, creative, independent. This ad separated Mac to start the “Mac versus PC debate” that is still relevant today.

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Which of these guys do you picture in an office at IBM?

In 2009, Hunch did a survey to analyze personality traits between Mac and PC users. They found that Mac users are more likely to see the existing world as the same all the time and want to be seen as different and unique. They are more apt to call themselves “verbal”, “conceptual”, and “risk-takers”.  The Mac brand is still as relevant today as it was 30 years ago at its introduction, and its consumer base reflects it.

The “1984” ad has also found itself injected into American culture. In 2007, Phil de Vellis used the visuals from the Macintosh ad and made it into “Vote Different”. It uses sound bites and images of 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to put her in the role of “Big Brother”—the role IBM took in the original ad. The woman with the sledgehammer that represented Mac became equated to Barack Obama. The video went viral and is a great example of using appropriation to communicate a message.

From “1984” to “Think different.” to “Get a Mac”, Apple’s advertising for Macintosh has continued to embody the individualism Steve Jobs envisioned for the brand. Now, 30 years after it was introduced, what does the Mac brand mean to you?

Nathan Evers

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