With the 54th Super Bowl wrapping up, and with the Kansas City Chiefs taking the victory, another football season has come to a close. And as usual, the event was inundated by a variety of commercials, whether it be Sam Elliot and Lil Nas X having a dance battle over Doritos or Bill Murray driving a groundhog around in a Jeep. Every entity seemed to have had some presence, including several political ads.
However, one thing that may have surprised some was Apple’s return to the small screen in a new ad that aired this year. How does it hold up to their legacy of ads? Let’s take a look at their long history of Super Bowl promos.
In 1984, Apple released its first Super Bowl ad, titled ‘1984.’ Directed by Ridley Scott of Alien, the ad reflects dystopian energy where dozens of figures sit before a ‘Big Brother’-esque figure. As they do so, we see a woman dressed toward a screen with a hammer, pursued by some form of law enforcement. As she enters the room, she tosses a sledgehammer at the screen, shattering the image of ‘Big Brother’ into pieces as the screen fades out, reflecting a message from Apple.
Frankly, it was a game-changer. Many consider the ad to be the one that set the stage for future Super Bowl ads to hit such a high standard. It set a cinematic precedent that was unique in its ability to tell a simple story, capture your attention and set Apple into your memory.
As journalist Michael Hiltzik stated: “For 36 years Madison Avenue has been trying to emulate it, match it or outdo it, and failing every time. But trying to recapture the magic of a unique artifact is a mug’s game. There can be only one ‘1984’ ad, just as there can be only one Hoover Dam or one Eiffel Tower. Everything else is a copy. “
After the monumental success of 1984 among audiences, Apple decided that it would be worth an attempt to replicate it. The commercial, titled Lemmings, was a unique construct, offering a series of dark images where an endless line of blindfolded individuals in business clothing walked toward a high incline, only for one to stop and remove their blindfold and realize the foolishness of the affair.
Apple hyped this new commercial up before the event, even putting ads in local newspapers about the affair. While the ad was designed to promote the Macintosh Office, it hit a rather discordant note at the time, with many viewers and users feeling insulted. And that would break the trend, with Apple not releasing another commercial until 1999.
Fourteen years later, Apple decided that they would make their next play toward a Super Bowl ad in 1999. That was the year of Y2K, when the public feared the possibility that a simple computer clock bug could lead to a severe shutdown of everything electronic and send us into a new Dark Age. However, Apple computers were immune to this particular little bug due to a method of coding that they relied on.
So like any good businessman, Steve Jobs decided to take advantage of consumer fear for sales.
The infamous AI HAL from 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY appears onscreen, its single eye staring at us as the camera zooms in. He goes on slowly about how 2000 lead to a massive collapse due to the so-called bug that engineers had missed in their coding. But as he does, he pivots to Apple, noting how it was ‘perfect’ and able to hold up to the disaster.
The creation of the commercial was a unique experience, as detailed by former Apple creative director Ken Segall, requiring several legal and copyright developments to occur (all of which can be read about here).
According to Segall, the ad was not an immediate winner. Early online polls revealed that it was not as memorable as some would’ve hoped. But as the press picked up the story, it soon grew a reputation as one of the smarter Super Bowl ads at the time, earning HAL himself a return at future Apple events.
The year is 2004, a pivotal time for MP3s. iTunes was slowly growing notoriety at the time, so Apple decided to partner with Pepsi to offer five million free downloads to those who purchased Pepsi drinks.
And what better way to promote them than with individuals who have actually been prosecuted for pirating music? The ad starts with revealing who these individuals were, only to then announce that they were going to keep doing so, except it was through iTunes instead of an illegitimate pirating website.
The offer sounded amazing, as Apple users could get that much free music. However, CNET reports that only 5 million of the 100 million free songs were redeemed. This was due to issues surrounding the release of properly labeled bottles into the market, specifically the lack of expediency in spreading said products.
Now, after 16 years, Apple released its latest Super Bowl ad. A musical rendition of their various games to a simple tune sang across the world. Released days before the big game, the song is whimsical in nature but illustrates a clear dedication to Apple as a game platform.
The ad is a bit bland, and certainly not up to the standards of Apple’s past. But, honestly, how could a company continuously hold up to a dystopian future created by the man behind ALIEN? It’s gotta be tough.