Marketing Guru Behind Apple’s 1984 Ad Believes It Was More Successful Than The Mac Itself

Marketing Guru Behind Apple’s 1984 Ad Believes It Was More Successful Than The Mac Itself

Apple’s infamous 1984 advertising campaign for the original Macintosh needs little introduction from myself. The one-minute clip, which was inspired by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four novel and depicts IBM users as mindless followers, was a huge success. So much so that the marketing guru behind it, Regis McKenna, believes it was more successful than the Macintosh itself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYecfV3ubP8

In an interview with the marketing magazine Ad Age, McKenna says the 1984 commercial inspired people to rebel against the status quo, and that it became bigger than the Mac itself:

“The ad was more successful than the Mac itself. The Mac was expensive to build, and Apple’s margins went negative in 1986. That conflict led to Steve’s ouster from Apple. The ad had some negative effect on corporate buyers, who were flocking to IBM. They didn’t like seeing themselves as mindless [followers]. But Apple wasn’t really ready for the corporate market anyway. “1984’ came out of the Chiat agency, and they set the creative bar in many ways. The ad set an attitude of rebellion against the status quo, and it probably continues to serve Apple today.”

During the interview, McKenna also talks about the time he came out of retirements to help Steve Jobs deal with the iPhone 4’s “antennagate” crisis:

Steve called me from Hawaii and told me he had a big problem. I knew what it was because I had been reading about it. He asked if I would meet him at Apple the next day [...]

I thought it was a media-cycle issue and that they should address it with the data they had and be confident about the outcome rather than be apologetic. That’s what Steve did. The issue vanished within probably 10 days.

If you’re an Apple fan, the full interview is well worth a read.

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  • cassandralite

    More revisionist history.  People couldn’t have been “inspired” to rebel against the status quo if they hadn’t already recognized the allusions in the 1984 ad from having read the book, probably in high school.  No corporate buyers flocked to Apple, and they didn’t care how they looked to anyone as long as their systems were compatible.  I suspect that most of them thought anyone caught up in the Mac frenzy was himself mindless, since there was little software available for the operating system.  Back then, I assure you, it was primarily creative types using Macs.  Come to think of it, that held true until very recently.

    If you’re interested in the most self-congratulatory history of the 1984 ad’s production, see this in Ad Week.  They’ve scrubbed the long and entertaining comment threads about how false the man’s narrative was.  http://www.adweek.com/news/adv

  • Artoo

    Huh… advertisements are not a product. The success of a campaign can only be measured in  terms of sales of the product it promotes, so to say that the 1984 ad was more successful than the Mac makes no sense at all.

    Besides this ad was an introduction to the whole Macintosh line, from the original Mac to the 24″ Intel iMac i’m using right now.

    Macs sold over 6 million units last year, not bad for just one computer LINE form one manufacturer. I would say both the ad and the Macintosh have been successful, but far more so the Mac itself.

  • Brandon Dillon

    I believe he meant it in terms of recognition.

  • Artoo

    Fair enough, but how can you “recognize” an ad on the Macintosh and not the Macintosh?

    And if Regis is arguing that the original Mac had bad sales, then the ad, which was meant to bring Mac sales, actually failed.

    Or maybe he means that over time this ad went on to become a classic, admired by professionals in the advertising field? OK; agreed, but In that case, and given the benefit of time, the MAC became a technological accomplishment admired by people in MANY fields.

    Far more people in the world are aware of the existence of Macintosh computers than of that particular ad. I’m pretty sure of that. So I still disagree with the statement, even if taken in terms of recognition.

About the author

Killian BellKillian Bell is a staff writer based in the U.K. He has an interest in all things tech and also covers Android over at CultofAndroid.com. You can follow him on Twitter via @killianbell.

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