Mar 12

Putting the wrong spin on “1984”

When I saw the headline on the Ad Age article, I stopped in my tracks:

 Apple First Marketing Guru On Why ‘1984’ Is Overrated

Yikes. Blasphemy!

Even worse, that “overrated” word is attributed to the great Regis McKenna, longtime friend/advisor to Steve Jobs and Apple’s original advertising/PR man.

What a story — except for the fact that it isn’t true.

The editor of this story either misses Regis’s point or is just out to snare some cheap clicks.

Regis never once says that 1984 is overrated. He says that the attention created by some ads can be a problem because it raises expectations. Apple went into decline in the years after 1984.

At that point, the interviewer tries to put the o-word in his mouth: “Are you saying that the ad industry overrates the 1984 ad?”

But even then, Regis doesn’t take the bait. He says that the ad was more successful than the Mac itself. It “set an attitude of rebellion against the status quo.” “It probably continues to serve Apple today.”

That the original Macintosh wasn’t successful by business standards is well known. That the 1984 commercial had people standing in line the next day, defined the revolutionary spirit of Apple and transformed the Super Bowl into an advertising showcase is also well known.

It’s actually amazing that the 1984 commercial “continues to serve Apple today,” a full 28 years after it ran. Especially when you consider that most commercials are forgotten in a matter of months.

To me, an overrated ad is one that isn’t as creative, or doesn’t have as much impact, as is widely believed. 1984 was wildly creative. And its impact has been almost beyond description — not just to Apple, but to other advertisers as well.

Did it turn Macintosh into the world’s favorite computer? Nope. But that’s hardly the responsibility of a single ad. Every commercial has a mission by which it should be judged. 1984‘s mission was to generate interest for a whole new kind of computer. The fact that we’re still talking about it today says a little something about how well it succeeded.

If you look at 1984 on its own merits, and assess whether it did what it was supposed to do, it’s hard to call it overrated. It’s easy to call it one of the greatest commercials of all time.

I can guarantee you, most other companies would line up to pay millions of dollars to run an ad as “overrated” as this one.

(Thanks, CB, for the tip.)

Follow me on Twitter @ksegall.

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  • scutdog

    28 years, actually.

  • ksegall

    Holy cow. Bad math. Thanks. Fixed…