In part 9 of “My Close Encounters With Steve Jobs,” Macworld founder David Bunnell tells how he shouted “Steve Jobs is a fucking genius!” in front of a bunch of kids at a Super Bowl party.
Steve lost his battle over the Mac’s introductory price point–instead of selling for $1999, it would have to move at $2,495. But there was a consolation prize. With the support of Apple’s CEO, John Scully, the Apple Board of Directors were persuaded to let Steve spend $1 million for one minute of air time during halftime on the upcoming Super Bowl broadcast.
Steve would get to introduce the Macintosh to an unsuspecting worldwide audience with a freaky ad unlike any ad anyone had ever seen before.
At this point, Macworld was off the presses in Minnesota and several cartons of the magazine would be delivered to our offices on Monday, just in time for the Macintosh introduction event at the Apple shareholders meeting in Cupertino. Without involving Andrew, I showed the Macworld bluelines (a photographic proof) to Mike Murray and Steve Schier, and they had approved them after ogling and awing over the design elements for about ten minutes. I don’t think they bothered reading much of the copy.
This was the first and last time Apple would have the right to see Macworld ahead of publication, which was a good thing, of course.
A few days before the big game, my friend at Dolby Labs, Alan Bowker, called to invite me to a Super Bowl party at Dolby’s San Francisco headquarters. “You’ve got to come,” he said, “we have the world’s biggest TV screen and of course, it’s hooked up to an outrageous sound system.”
I wasn’t much of a football fan, but this was thrilling. An unique opportunity, I figured, to see first-hand how people would react to the 1984 commercial. I was convinced the ad would get their attention, but would they see the connection to a new computer from Apple called Macintosh?
The party itself was laid-back and fun with lots of food, beer and wine, and none of the loud, drunken rowdiness that is often associated with the Super Bowl. The 50 or so people there were mostly Dolby employees and their families. And for its day, the sound and visual effects were amazing.
“This is better than being at the actual game,” I thought.
The game itself was boring, but as it got closer to halftime, I started to feel very excited. Of course, I was the only who knew what was going to happen. I had seen the ad, but still had no idea what impact it might have. I was dying to find out.
But then my heart sunk as someone said, “let’s switch off the broadcast during this break and watch some awesome Dolby Lab demo tapes.”
“No, please!” I rudely raised my voice. “Apple Computer is going to run this really far-out commercial and believe me, you’ve got to see it. I’ve got to see it.”
Aside from Alan, most of the people had no idea who I was and they must have thought I was crazy. Some of them were obviously annoyed, but they politely agreed to keep the TV on at least until the commercial aired.
And then, suddenly is was happening. The zombies were marching in unison down a long tunnel while the voice of Big Brother shouted at them, “Today we celebrate the first anniversary of the Information Purification. We have created for the first time in history, a garden of pure ideology where each worker may bloom secure from the pests of contradictory and confusing truths….”
There was dead silence in the room–even the kids were dumbstruck by what the were seeing on the big TV screen.
“What the hell is this,” someone whispered.
I swear I heard people gasp as the beautiful blond girl with the white Apple T-shirt ran down the aisle between the zombies, chased by Thought Police with billy clubs, and hurled a hammer up at the Big Brother figure on the giant screen, shattering it to pieces.
Everyone was completely transfixed when the message scrolled down with a voice-over, “On January 24, 1984, Apple will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”
Pandemonium broke out as everyone was talking at once. This was the loudest this particular Super Bowl Party ever got. Overhearing comments like, “Wow, this Macintosh thing must be really incredible” I knew the Mac would be a hit even with its high price, buggy operating system, lack of software and pathetic 128K of memory.
No one would care, there would be huge lines Tuesday morning at the computer stores around the country. People would buy the Macintosh just to have one and if they didn’t buy it right away, they would surely spring for a copy of Macworld magazine.
“Steve Jobs is a fucking genius!” I shouted, momentarily forgetting about the presence of wives and little kids.
Postscript: As we now know, the Apple Super Bowl ad was the most watched TV commercial of the 20th Century. It was replayed that very evening on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite and subsequently rebroadcasted time and time again on other news programs. A.C. Nielson estimated during the Super Bowl it was viewed by a full 50 percent of the nation’s men, and 36 percent of the women. Later on, Advertising Age named it the 1980s’ Commercial of the Decade. You can still see the “1984 Ad” on YouTube and it is frequently listed as one of the Top 10 Super Bowl ads of all time.
Part 1: Meeting Steve
Part 2: Seeing the Macintosh for the Very First Time
Part 3: We Met the REAL Steve Jobs
Part 4: Steve Jobs Tells Us to “Belly Up to the Bar”
Part 5: Steve Comes Up with a Really Weird Ad
Part 6: Steve Poses for the First Cover of Macworld
Part 7: Andrew Fluegelman Urges Apple to Delay the Introduction
Part 8: Pat McGovern Meets with Steve, the Deal is Done.
Part 9: Steve is F*cking Great!
Part 10: Steve Thumbs his Nose at the Apple II
Part 11: The Macintosh Speaks For Itself (Literally)…
Part 12: The Fat Mac Saves the Day
Part 13: Steve Brings Tina to the Macworld Dinner Party
Part 14: Ella Fitzgerald Sings Happy Birthday to Steve
Part 15: Steve’s NeXT Big Thing
Follow me on Twitter @davbunnell.