Apple '1984': Creative leaders' verdicts, 35 years on
A view from Staff

Apple '1984': Creative leaders' verdicts, 35 years on

Following TBWA\Media Arts Lab chairman Lee Clow's retirement, four executive creative directors reflect on his iconic spot.

Vicki Maguire, chief creative officer, Grey London

It’s '84, I’m in my first year at Newcastle poly studying fashion. I’m in my Morrissey phase: paisley bingo blouse and gladioli in my back pocket.

I’m using a light box to trace and a sketchbook to think. Those Pentel nude markers are like gold dust in my class. (And, as it was the 1980s, one pink flesh colour fitted all). 

When it came to computers, I might have had a go occasionally on a friend’s BBC Micro playing Chuckie Egg, but that was as far as our knowledge went.

Computers were housed in the tech block… and no-one wanted to hang out with the tech guys.

I probably saw "1984" in the middle of an episode of Brookside. But I remember it and the impact it had.

I remember Apple breaking into the creative world. Bringing them out of tech and Tomorrow’s World and into cool.

I remember wanting one, even though I didn’t know what it was. And so began my 30-year relationship with Apple… Think I’ve still got an orange clamshell under the bed. 

Unsurprisingly, really, as Clow was one of the first who wanted his ads to become part of popular culture. He certainly achieved that with this iconic piece of work, which still looks fresh and resonates 35 years later.

There are so many reasons why.

Few ads since have matched the truly cinematic scope and impact of Clow’s vision, enabled by the genius of Ridley Scott, who imbued it with more than a little Blade Runner-esque aesthetic. 

It cleverly rode the cultural zeitgeist of the time, too, with everyone obsessed again with George Orwell’s novel (the John Hurt and Richard Burton film soundtracked by Eurythmics came out later that year) and reflects the dystopian feel of the book.

The world certainly felt pretty dystopian at that time. It was the year of the Ethiopian famine, the miners’ strike, riots, Greenham Common protests, record unemployment, the Brighton Grand Hotel bombing. We were still scared of nuclear attack in the midst of the Cold War, and the US was in the middle of a crack and Aids epidemic as Ronald Reagan was re-elected (and I add, without comment, that 1984 was also the year that Mark Zuckerberg was born!).

"1984" takes all this on board, both commenting on and reflecting contemporary society, but in a stylish, seminal way. It was a big-bucks production and it shows. But every penny looks well-spent. The staging is perfect, scripting sublime, the scale immense and the colour palette on point.

It’s often said that, in turbulent times of bad news and social unrest, great art is produced. So, where’s the equivalent of this truly epic ad now in our Trump-divided, Brexit-riven times? 

"1984" reminds us of how incredible they can be. It still sends a serious message about the creative power of advertising. 

I also love that the renegade runner – played by British athlete, actress and model Anya Major – is the one single female in a hall full of faceless grey men (I’ve often known how she must have felt).

Having said all this, one thing about it always makes me smile. 

That, in 1984, they could invent a personal computer that would change the world. But looking at the runner brandishing the sledgehammer, it’s amazing that they couldn’t invent a decent bloody sports bra.

Ben Middleton, chief creative officer, Creature London

Saturday 22 January 1984

Dear diary,

Wowzers, I just saw the best and most scariest and exciting thing I have ever seen on TV ever. It even made me put down my He-Man and just watch the television, and I never do that because most stuff on the telly that isn't He-Man is BORING BORING BORING.

It was so cool. At the start, there were all these people walking along tunnels in a huge factory, like a big sad grey worm, and then there are soldiers who are running after them and being mean. 

But then there's a brave lady who looks like she doesn't belong in this sad factory because she’s running and she’s colourful and brave-looking and she is being chased by the soldiers towards a room where there's a big mean old man who is shouting at everybody like Mr Grove in maths, and he is saying that he’s in charge or something, and being boring is good and there are all these sad people who are just standing there like when Dad's tired and he can't remember why he came upstairs.

And then we see the lady running down the middle of the room with all the sad people again, which is dangerous (and exciting) because Mum says not to run indoors 'coz I'll knock something over, but anyway she's running and everyone stops and turns around to see her.

And then she has a great big hammer that she starts swinging around and around (which is also quite naughty, but that also looks really fun) and the big-faced man on the screen who is being mean starts to look really cross. Then she just throws the hammer at his face and it's flying through the air and all the sad people are surprised and then it smashes into the great big TV screen, which explodes and the big mean man goes away. That bit was so RAD!

And then there’s this grown-up’s voice that says "On January 24th Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 doesn't have to be like 1984", which my mum says is very clever, and that I'll understand when I'm older, which is OK because I'm only small. And it's made Mum and Dad smile, and adverts never do that.

Then there's a rainbow apple on the telly and it is the coolest apple I have ever seen and it makes me feel happy because I think they’re like me, because I like things that are exciting and different, not all the same and boring.

The person who made this film must be very clever. I hope they make lots and lots of exciting films for years and years, way into the future, until I’m old and it’s like 2019 or something. I hope I can get a job making things like that when I’m older. It looks like a lot of fun.

I give this advert five out of five stars.

Rick Brim, chief creative officer, Adam & Eve/DDB

When I watched it for the first time in years, I was slightly saddened that it hadn’t stood up to the test of time. It felt dated and of another era, but then I thought that is exactly the point.

It was of another era – an era before internet, stupid farting cats and world-famous eggs. An era when I was still having the occasional wee-wee accident. So I’m not sure I will ever be able to fully comprehend its impact on the world, but by gum does its legend live on.

On my first day at Rainey Kelly [now Y&R London], a blond-coiffed powerhouse stormed past me on her way to a meeting. On enquiring who it was, I was informed that it was MT and she had worked on the Apple ad. "And?" I thought. "What’s so special about the Apple ad?" I asked as I waited for the dial-up connection to kick in. 

Then I saw it and I got it. I got why she was spoken about with such reverence (apart from being an absolute legend). You didn’t need to have been there to understand its effect. It’s not really an ad, but a line in the sand.

Andy Jex, chief creative officer, TBWA\London

It’s a proper benchmark. After 35 years of superlatives, what can possibly be added? Apart from more praise on the heap? Well, perhaps to reframe it for the modern era.

It can be hard for more recent generations to understand its appeal and impact. To them, it looks of its time. But it holds so many qualities that are not just vital to advertising today, but ones that were never actually qualities before "1984". No-one just ran an advert once back then. No one treated the ad break during the Super Bowl like that. No one knowingly courted PR that way. No one in advertising did epic.

People these days spend a lot of time talking about scale and culture. Not back then they didn’t, because before "1984" scale and culture weren’t important to our industry. The idea is actually beautifully simple in thought. A brilliantly written line. But it was an act of audacity to even undertake it. Like the great "unfilm-able" novels, could it actually be realised? It required a visionary director in his pomp to bring such scale to life. But a legend like Lee to dream it was possible.