Apple’s long journey to the workplace

What a difference a few decades make.

During the 1985 Super Bowl broadcast, Apple followed up its previous—and widely acclaimed—Super Bowl commercial, 1984, with a little disaster called Lemmings.

Designed to seduce business customers with “The Macintosh Office,” it actually insulted its intended target by depicting them as, uh … Lemmings.

34 years later, Apple is again making its pitch to business. This time, it’s a bit more down to earth—and infinitely more convincing.

In Lemmings, we never saw a glimpse of the technology Apple was selling, nor did we feel any empathy for the poor fools walking off that cliff. It was a teaser ad. There was only the promise that The Macintosh Office would lift them out of their bleak, visionless reality.

If this inspired you to check into it (instead of driving you away), you would have found that The Macintosh Office consisted of a bunch of Macs tied together in a local network, sharing files and an Apple LaserWriter.

In those times, this might have sounded good on paper. But The Macintosh Office was a complete dud. It started off on the wrong foot with a terrible ad, and then the enabling technology never quite came together.

Today the technology has evolved in ways even Steve Jobs couldn’t have predicted back then. What Apple offers in the form of Macs, iPhones, iPads, iCloud and more, truly is a complete solution for business customers—enabling people to work anywhere, anytime, sharing and collaborating 24/7.

Rather than make a grand symbolic statement about its role as an innovator (Lemmings), the new business ad is Apple doing what it does best—presenting technology in the most human terms.

We see a unique bunch of real people (okay, actors) with different talents and temperaments, making the most of technology to get to the finish line with their best work.

For three full minutes, we watch the process, interactions, frustrations and breakthroughs. And in the end, we see—nothing. No indication whether this heroic effort succeeds or fails.

To those who see this ending as some great failing, I say au contraire. A happy ending would be boringly predictable, and an over-promise to boot. The fact is, technology can only get you so far. Talent does matter.

Apple’s message is that its products can help you make the most of your company’s talents.

The ad also acknowledges that there is no “business as usual” for a new generation of entrepreneurial companies. In that sense it strikes a chord, even if our own business doesn’t look like the one we’re watching.

The ad isn’t about winning or losing—it’s simply about empowerment. Apple found a way to deliver this message in a spot that’s fun to watch and easy to assimilate.

Just don’t expect this ad to change the opinion of diehard Apple critics. They might even see it as proof that Apple customers have actually become the Lemmings, marching to Apple’s overpriced tune.

The truth is, this isn’t just a technology war. As Steve Jobs well knew, it is a technology and marketing war. You have to be good at both

Sure, you could assemble this wide range of products and capabilities from other companies, likely for a lower cost. But those companies aren’t out there with this message.

Apple is. An eon after its first failed attempt to capture the workplace, this time it actually has the ammunition.