Film Preview: “Art & Copy” — a Tribute to When Apple’s Ads Were Emotional

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of viewing “Art & Copy,” a new documentary about the best ad agencies on the planet, during the San Francisco Film Festival. It’s a wonderful film, full of great stories about the creative process and the origins of the 20th Century’s most memorable ads. Critically for Mac fans, this includes a brilliant blow-by-blow for how Apple’s amazing “1984” commercial was created, courtesy of TBWA Chiat-Day Chairman Lee Clow.

The clip itself isn’t available to embed, but what Clow says about “1984’ — and then demonstrates in 1997’s “Think Different” — is worth remarking upon for anyone who has a long-term relationship with Apple. Clow says that the reason “1984’ could be brilliant is that, first of all, he was given absolute creative freedom, second, Ridley Scott typified a new way of making movies that was just starting to take off in the U.S., and, most important, Apple actually had a revolutionary product and was aware of how revolutionary it was. When a great creative force gets a near-unlimited budget to promote a genuinely amazing product, it would be hard not to do so well.

Fascinatingly, Clow claims Apple’s board tried to kill “1984’ right before it aired, at which point Jobs and Woz offered to split the cost of airing it in the Super Bowl — so it helps to have rich, passionate executives, too.

What’s interesting about looking back to “1984’ and “Think Different,” both of which are considered in the film, is just how emotional they are. They make a profound appeal to people who feel like outsiders, rebels. Whether Apple ever really represented that feeling or not (I personally believe that it did), those spots went an incredible distance toward summing up what being a Mac user meant in the pre-iMac era. It meant everything, in a lot of ways. Pretty much any long-time Apple user will get misty watching either spot — or even talking about them.

That’s why the segment of the movie that shows Clow and his team working on iPod dance commercials in the present day was ultimately such a shock. Apple doesn’t make passionate ads any more. The emotion is gone. Apple makes cool ads — iPod dancers, Mac v. PC — and it makes educational ads — iPhone explanations, iPod touch as gaming system — but it no longer makes a real emotional appeal. Now, this transition is unquestionably more successful. But it does make me feel less a part of a movement. And that’s something I miss pretty much all the time.

I can’t recommend this film, which gets distributed in September, highly enough — nor that you click through the jump to watch “1984’ and “Think Different.”

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About the author

Pete Mortensen

Pete Mortensen is a design strategist for consulting firm Jump Associates and the co-author of Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, a book and blog that are significantly more interesting than you might initially think. Pete's particular Apple avocations are both around design--interface and industrial. Follow him on Twitter!

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