This Sunday is the Super Bowl and, contrary to what Steve Jobs may have thought, yes, people will be watching it — around 108 million, if last year’s numbers are any indication.
The real question is whether Apple will have an ad ready for the event, to commemorate three decades since the company’s iconic Macintosh commercial kicked off an advertising trend that is still followed today.
If you believe Lee Clow, an advertising legend and chairman and global director of TBWA\Worldwide, there certainly will be one, as he recently tweeted:
Gonna be a goodSuper Bowl. Mac’s gonna be 30 :)
— Lee Clow (@_clow) January 20, 2014
In 2004, Apple updated its most famous commercial to add an iPod to the sledgehammer-hurling protagonist — suggesting that a similar update could be in the works for the iOS generation.
Speaking at a recent digital marketing conference organized by Zeta Interactive, former Apple CEO John Sculley claimed that, despite costing $1 million for a 30-second slot, the original Mac commercial netted Apple close to $45 million of free advertising as a result of the buzz the commercial created.
“There was never any product shown in the commercial,” Sculley said. “We just wanted to show something amazing was coming. In that era, it was about massive audiences, but the Super Bowl wasn’t what it is today.”
Today, a commercial spot during the Super Bowl costs $4 million — but even in a time of fragmented audiences can still lead to big sales increases, since the commercials are now practically as anticipated as the big game itself.
“There are very few big audience-venues anymore because the world is fragmented into all different types of mediums”, Sculley noted. “That is why people go to Super Bowls for those big thematic ads.”
In 2002, Pepsi claimed that it received nearly $10 million in free advertising after shelling out $2.4 million for a spot. In 2012, Doritos supposedly received more than $90 million (!) against a cost of $3.5 million.
As a company that can take credit for a lot of the buzz that now exists around Super Bowl ads, Apple has a lot to live up to. With the exception of the original 1984 Macintosh commercial, its Super Bowl record is mixed.
In 1999, Apple ran a superb commercial spoofing H.A.L. from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which reassured users worried about the Millennium Bug (remember that?) and offered a nice preview of Siri-to-come:
However, in 1985 the company put out its infamous “Lemmings” spot — leading to Apple receiving numerous irate calls from angry customers.
“That was clearly a mistake, showing all your potential customers jumping off a cliff,” former Apple engineer Alan Oppenheimer told me.
Apple has been on a roll with its advertising lately though. And with 30 years having passed since the company kick-started Super Bowl commercials as the advertising phenomenon we know today, it would be great to see the company make its return in style.
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