Steve Jobs Comes Up With a Really Weird Ad [Recollections]



In Part 5 of My Close Encounters With Steve Jobs, Macworld founder David Bunnell describes seeing the 1984 Macintosh ad for the first time.

Macworld Editor Andrew Fluegelman wasn’t too thrilled about Apple checking the first issue blue-lines, but he was delighted to get the prototype Macs weeks before they were available to the public.

That very day we returned from our second meeting with Steve we commandeered the conference room at our PC World headquarters, covered the windows with butcher paper and had a lock installed on the door. This would be our Mac war room.

Here, we would not only preview and photograph the Macs we would be receiving, but actually use them to produce Macworld copy. Only myself, Andrew, and the people working directly on the project would have access. Dan Farber, who went on to have stellar career as editor-in-chief of such publications as PC Week, MacWeek, CNET and CBS News, was already on board as a full-time assistant editor. His efforts would end up making the difference between the success and failure of our Herculean enterprise.

We were right about our designer, Margery Spiegelman. She was extremely smart and even though she wasn’t a technologist she instantly understood what the Mac was all about.

She designed Macworld to be the first computer magazine that would look great on someone’s coffee table. It was oversized and incorporated graphic elements reflecting the icons and bit-mapped graphics found on the Mac screen. To compensate for the fact that the first Mac screen was black and white, she splashed color across the pages in pages in a dramatic fashion. For the paper, she picked a beautiful non-glossy, “mat” stock that was revolutionary in its day.

“This stock,” Margery said, “will do a better job of letting the Mac speak for itself.”

The creative period that followed was the lull before the storm. Steve Jobs and by extension Mike Murray, were too busy battling with Apple’s CEO, John Sculley, over the Mac’s introductory price to pay much attention to us. Convinced that it had to be under $2000, Jobs was insisting on $1999, yet Sculley wanted it to be $2495.

When asked about our opinion, Andrew and I naturally agreed with Steve. The lower the price, we figured, the more machines Apple will sell and the more Macworld subscriptions will pour in.

As forceful as Steve could be, he lost this battle or he capitulated without telling Murray because Sculley agreed to raise the Mac’s marketing budget, no one but Steve really knows. To this day, though, I think the higher price was a mistake. Sculley was right to have argued thousands of “early adopters” would buy a Mac but once this happened, sales in fact slowed down considerably.

Steve got back at Sculley by spending a large chunk of his marketing budget on one very outrageously expensive TV ad, which he decided to show only one time.

Andrew and I were at the Mac building interviewing MacPaint’s creator, Bill Atkinson, who was one of the most creative people I’ve ever met, when Mike popped in and said, “hey guys, when you’re finished come into the conference room. Steve and I have something we want to show you on the TV monitor.”

There’s simply no way I can describe the powerful, but mixed emotions I experienced while first watching this so-called commercial with Steve Jobs intensely staring at me to judge my every reaction. It was weird, outlandish, bizarre, puzzling, and stunning.

As I watched a chesty blond babe in an Apple T-shirt being chased by helmeted storm troopers with raised billy clubs down the aisle of a movie theater populated by a crowd of gray colored, zombie clones, I literally had goose bumps.

The zombies were listening to an Orwellian Big Brother figure who obviously represented IBM. He was sternly barking at them a message about the power of conformity, “Our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth,” until the Apple Woman hurled a hammer through the air, shattering the movie screen. I gasped.

This was followed by message of scrolling type with a voice-over: “On January 24, 1984, Apple will introduce the Macintosh and you will see why 1984 won’t be 1984.”

I had read the book “1984” while in high school and feared that computers could be used to control our very thoughts, but I didn’t know quite what to say other than, “this is amazing, who did this for you?”

“Ridley Scott,” Mike said, “you know, the guy who directed Blade Runner. We are going to run it during halftime at the Super Bowl on January 22.”

The cost of running the 60 second spot was a million bucks and because it took a couple weeks to produce at London’s Shepperton Studios with a cast of 200 people, the production costs were nearly the same, over $900,000.

To be honest, I worried it wouldn’t help Apple sell computers. There were no images of the Macintosh, nothing to indicate what its features were, it price, or most importantly, how it was different from the IBM PC. But seeing how enthused Steve and Mike were, I didn’t mention my concerns.

“Apple doesn’t have any future plans to work with IBM, does it?” Andrew quipped and we all laughed.

By now, it was clear to me that there would indeed be a Macworld magazine. Andrew and I were totally committed, and Steve Jobs and Mike Murray were counting on us to deliver. There was too much momentum here. It simply couldn’t be stopped.

Mike said he thought Steve was ready to accept the $3 per warranty card deal but McGovern still couldn’t believe Apple would deliver that many Macs so he upped the ante by demanding a guaranteed payment schedule. Every three months, Apple would have to send us a minimal amount regardless of how many Macs they sold or how many warranty card came in.

I began to envision printing the magazine even if the publishing contract was never signed. In fact I met with Mike and his right-hand guy, Steve Schier, for lunch at the Whole Earth Restaurant in Cupertino and we agreed the magazine would be published and available at the January 24 introduction whether or not our respective chairmen ever saw eye-to-eye and signed the contract.

For me, Macworld had longed ceased to be a business proposition—like the Mac itself it had become a missionary quest. It would be published no matter what.

Besides, I had an ace in the hole. The more money we spent the more likely Uncle Pat would come around because he wouldn’t want to see our investment go to waste. At this point the Macworld team had grown to include six fulltime employees including a dedicated advertising sales person as well as a dozen or more outside contributors. Articles had been written, illustrations and photographs commissioned, the printer was ready to go and we had even paid for the paper.

All this would be lost if we didn’t go ahead.

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


Daily round-ups or a weekly refresher, straight from Cult of Mac to your inbox.

  • The Weekender

    The week's best Apple news, reviews and how-tos from Cult of Mac, every Saturday morning. Our readers say: "Thank you guys for always posting cool stuff" -- Vaughn Nevins. "Very informative" -- Kenly Xavier.