Tim Tan Huynh

The mother of all Super Bowl commercials

  • 27 Jan 2015
  • Powerful visuals and writing, along with a multitude of outside factors, make this commercial truly historic.

I plan to watch Super Bowl XLIX because I’m a sports fan. This year’s matchup is between two powerhouses, one old and one new: the Patriots are perennial favorites aiming to end a decade-long drought and the Seahawks are defending champs hoping to carry over a fourth-quarter comeback. Even without the Deflategate scandal, this game has compelling stories. I wouldn’t be surprised if 115 million or so viewers watch the broadcast at some point.

Of course, a lot of these viewers will be tuning in just to watch the commercials. The tradition of companies making exclusive, expensive, and extravagant Super Bowl ads all started with the¬†“1984” ad, created by Chiat/Day and directed by Ridley Scott. If you’re reading this post, then you’ve probably already seen it. Instead of embedding a low-quality video of the original, I’ve found an interview with¬†advertising guru Lee Clow.

The commercial is historically important because it’s memorable. It has strong imagery in the form of an imaginative, dystopian setting and a bold, sexy heroine. Its wording takes advantage of the fact that the year is also the title of George Orwell’s literary opus, which happens to be an obvious inspiration for the commercial’s theme.

The geopolitical context of the era, the limited instances of broadcast, and the revolutionary impact of the product (though not actually shown) all add to the mystique. I’ve done some reading about the behind-the-scenes history and here’s some interesting trivia.

  1. The heroine, Anya Major, also starred in the music video for Elton John’s “Nikita.”
  2. Lee Clow envisioned a baseball bat being used to destroy the screen. Ridley Scott believed that a sledgehammer would be more universally appealing.
  3. During production, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak offered to pay for everything themselves.
  4. Chiat/Day planned to continue airing the commercial after Super Bowl XVIII. Apple’s board of directors effectively ended this plan and unintentionally added to the legend.
  5. “1984” was close to not airing at all. The Apple board of directors apparently hated it that much.

People watch Super Bowl commercials hoping to see the next “1984” whether they realize it or not. I don’t think we’ll see anything with comparable lasting appeal, but at least I have a football game to watch.