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The Board of Directors Thought He Was Nuts

by Mike Keeler

And you have to admit, the idea behind Steve Jobs’ television spot was rather, um, different.  It was a story about a soulless industrial future, an army of automatons, and a track and field athlete.  The story was created at a boutique advertising agency in Venice, California called Chiat/Day by Creative Director Lee Clow, Copywriter Steve Hayden, and Art Director Brent Thomas.  Jobs loved it, and gave them the green light to produce it.  Needing a director, they called Ridley Scott, a rising star who’d just wrapped a movie called Blade Runner.  Though he had already moved beyond TV spots and was now filming features, Scott listened to their pitch.  He liked the idea, and signed on to shoot it.  (The budget, an until-then-unheard-of $900,000, may have had something to do with it.)

The script called for a petite, attractive woman to hurl a sledgehammer.  A casting call brought in the usual assortment of pretty actresses and models, but most of them couldn’t pick up the hammer, let alone throw it.  The part went to an amateur discus thrower named Anya Major who was discovered while working out at a London health club.  The only other major role in the spot was an authoritative face on a large video screen.  This part went to David Graham, a British character actor known more for his voice (Saturday kids shows like Thunderbirds) than for his face (bit parts in geek shows like Dr. Who).  The cinematographer responsible for creating the commercial’s nightmare feel was Adrian Biddle, who may have been a better swimmer than he was a cameraman.  He’d gotten his start filming underwater scenes for Bond movies before joining Scott’s production company; he had never shot anything like this before.  The commercial was shot at Fairbanks Films in New York, and edited by Pamela Powers at RSA in London.

When the finished spot was presented to Jobs, he was so excited that he started booking time for it on the upcoming Super Bowl.  But when he showed the commercial to his board, they were flabbergasted.  There was no product in the advertisement, no tagline, only an end title that read, “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’”  With the board in an uproar, Apple founder Steve Wozniak stepped in and said he would pay for it himself if the board refused.

The spot was run surreptitiously, at 1:00 AM on KMVT Twin Falls, Idaho, in December 1983, so it could be entered in that year’s advertising awards contests.  Its second airing was on January 22, 1984, in the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII, when the Raiders were beating the Redskins 31-9.  And then it never aired again.

It didn’t need to, as the status quo had already been shattered.  The next day, folks weren’t talking about football, they were talking about advertising.  And many of them had already made up their mind to buy a new Macintosh.

In sixty seconds, Steve Jobs had not only revolutionized how products can be sold, he had transformed the media marketplace.

He was 29 years old.

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