An Analysis of Apple’s 1984 Superbowl Commercial

The following is an essay written for my English class.

A bleak dystopia with heavy allusions to George Orwell’s 1984 is the setting of Apple’s 1984 Mackintosh commercial, and through it Apple is able to speak volumes about it’s product without showing or describing it. Powerful images of mindless drones being brainwashed by an all-seeing tyrant suggest there is no one free from his power until the girl with the sledgehammer liberates the drones from the tyrant’s speech. Using a brilliant pathos appeal, the commercial makes the viewer feel like if they don’t have the upcoming Macintosh computer then they are just another drone in the crowd and in no way unique. For the majority of the ad the only dialogue is a speech being given by the tyrant on the screen, but once the sledgehammer is thrown text crawls up the screen. Through the use of 1984’s bleak dystopian society as the setting, Apple is able to effectively portray itself and it’s products as the only way for someone to break out from the crowd and be truly original.

The images in Apple’s 1984 ad are allusions to George Orwell’s famous novel 1984, in which the Dystopian nation of Oceania is governed by a suppressive totalitarian government. The tyrant in the ad is representative of the Big Brother character in the novel, the dictator of Oceania, and in the ad this character is meant to be representative of Apple’s competitors, particularly IBM. The crowds of people who have been brainwashed by Big Brother are the consumers, mindlessly being controlled by the big computer companies. They wear grey jumpsuits with shaved heads and have no distinct features to separate one from the other; even their genders are left ambiguous. The girl with the hammer is the protagonist of 1984, Winston Smith, and in the ad she is Apple, the underdog come to save the people from the oppressive tyrant that is Big Brother, or in reality IBM. She wears attire fitting that of an Olympic athlete, bright orange shorts, running shoes, and a white tank top with the Apple logo in cubist artwork. Through use of allusions to 1984 the images and the setting in the ad are given depth that is normally unobtainable in a thirty-second ad.

While the images of the drones marching, the tyrant on-screen, and the girl with the sledgehammer are powerful and unforgettable, the coloring of the images is what makes them so powerful. When the people marching or the tyrant are shown everything has tones of blue and grey, while shots of the girl have full color. Even more so the girl’s clothing is bright, colorful, and very athletic looking while the people in the crowd are wearing thick, grey uniforms. The coloration of the shots is important because it works on multiple levels. The grey and blue tones on shots of Big Brother and his followers let the viewer instantly recognize Big Brother as the antagonist and the crowd as a brainwashed mass. It also lets the audience know that there is no individuality in this group. If the appearances of the crowd weren’t enough they are given uniforms of the same bland grey color to make sure no one sticks out, they are all the same. In contrast the bright colors on the girl let the audience know she is the protagonist, and that she is going to liberate the people from the control of the tyrant. In this way the girl is unique, and original, exactly what Apple wants to be seen as.

Apple wants to be seen as the beacon of originality, and by this they are appealing to a persons want to be unique and outside of the crowd; it is a pathos appeal, an appeal to emotion, and it works because of the powerful images present in the ad. No one wants to be just one in the crowd, and no one wants to be controlled but that is exactly what the consumer is if they don’t buy an Apple Macintosh. This ad focuses on those who want to be different, and it makes them feel like the way to be different and unique is to buy the upcoming Mackintosh. For those who don’t necessarily care about being different, the ad taunts them by calling them mindless followers of the big corporations. It doesn’t come outright and say it, but it is implied. Apple uses this kind of appeal because a lot of the appeal of Apple products themselves is that they are slicker then the competition. This appeal matches how Apple wants to present itself in everything it does, unique and different from the rest, and therefore better.

The ads successful appeal to emotion is thanks to its powerful images, but the images wouldn’t be nearly as impactful if not for the language used in the ad. Big Brother’s speech is about conformity and it fits perfectly over the image of crowds of marching look-a-likes and contrasts brilliantly with the image of the girl running with the hammer. He preaches “our Unification of Thoughts is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people, with one will, one resolve, one cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, and we will bury them with their own confusion.” Then, once the speech is finished and the hammer is thrown we are given this statement: “on January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh, and you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.” The speech given by Big Brother, when overlaid with the images of the mindless drones, portrays the world as being controlled by this one all-powerful ruler. This portrays a feeling of having no control over your actions at all, making the viewer feel like one of the drones brainwashed by Big Brother. Then big Brother is taken down by the Apple girl, and the phrase about 1984 not being like 1984 appears on-screen. This is the only time in the commercial the product is mentioned at all. By only mentioning the product once Big Brother has been defeated it makes it seem as if the Mackintosh itself is what defeated Big Brother, making the viewer want it even more. The speech made by Big Brother makes the ad work as well as it does, as it is an audible reminder of the conformity being displayed, and when it ends it is replaced by a phrase with a promise of a different future.

Apple’s 1984 ad takes advantage of George Orwell’s beloved novel 1984 and its setting to create one of the most successful ads of all time. Powerful images of drones, tyrants, and a lone hero captivate the audience and Brilliantly weave characters like Big Brother and Winston Smith into an ad about personal computers. The greatest aspect of the allusions being made in this ad is that the viewer doesn’t have to understand the allusions to understand the ad. There is depth in this ad that could only have been accomplished by using a novel such as 1984 as a backdrop. Everything in this ad can be attributed to 1984, from the images to the dialogue, and it is all the better for it. Take away 1984 and this ad will lose everything that has made it a cultural icon. Through the use of a brilliant pathos appeal combined with the powerful images and dialogue, Apple’s 1984 ad is one of the most effective ads in history.

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Published by: adamclowry

I'm a college student at Georgia State University studying Film with the intention of writing screenplays for feature films. I've always been interested in film and TV, but my interest turned to passion when I took a Digital Media class in high school. Since then I've thrown myself into productions, while finishing up college. When I'm not in school I spend my time writing, editing, drawing, and playing video games.

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