All of us smarty-pants ad execs can tell you all about that famous ad from 1984. Steve Jobs and his ad agency Chiat/Day cooked up an idea for a commercial that involved a dystopian future, a population of brainless citizens, an all-powerful Big Brother, and a gorgeous Nordic track and field athlete. Weird enough, and even stranger that the commercial featured exactly zero product imagery, and the merest voice-over copy, “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’” The board of Apple computer hated it so much they wanted to reject it, but Jobs persevered, and Chiat/Day hired a hip young director named Ridley Scott to film it. When it was done, the spot aired just twice: once in the middle of the night in Twin Falls, Idaho, and then again in the third quarter of the 1984 Super Bowl. And then…boom. The commercial hit Madison avenue, and the marketing world, like a thunderbolt. People couldn’t stop talking about it. (This being pre-Internet, the spot couldn’t go viral, so let’s just say it went bacterial.) In one minute, Apple had changed the way folks looked at television advertising, and transformed how marketers would utilize the Super Bowl going forward. The commercial’s effect resonates today, with many people spending more time watching and analyzing Super Bowl advertising than they do the game itself.
But, to be fair, we also have to give discredit where discredit is due. So let’s skip forward just one year, to 1985, and that year’s Super Bowl installment, created by the exact same Apple team. Again we find a soulless future, and a line of suit-wearing, attaché-carrying, blindfolded automatons plodding along to a dismal rendition of “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go.” One by one they approach a cliff, and, like the lemmings that they are, fall brainlessly over the edge. Until the very last man stops on the verge, perhaps hearing the voice-over, which says, “On January 23, Apple Computer will announce the Macintosh Office.” He removes his blindfold. “You can look into it, or you can go on with business as usual.”
The similarity between the two Apple spots is intentional, and amazing. Same future world, same art direction, same voice-over guy, same epic promise of tech salvation. Even more amazing is how inspired ‘1984’ is and how much “Lemmings” just…um…well, to be honest, it sucks. But not in your average bad-Super-Bowl-ad kind of way. Not in a Go Daddy-let’s-be-dismissive-of-women kind of way. Not in an Outpost.com-shooting-gerbils-out-of-a-cannon-at-a-wall kind of way. Nor in a Holiday Inn-renovation-is-equivalent-to-a-transsexual-attending-her-high-school-reunion kind of way. Or even in a dead-Fred Astaire-dancing-with-a-Dirt Devil kind of way. “Lemmings” doesn’t even suck in that Where’s-Herb?-Burger King kind of way. (And don’t even get us started on the horror that is Bud Bowl.)
Nope, “Lemmings” came from Steve Jobs and Apple, and everything they did, they did big. So it’s a big spot. It’s an attention-getting spot. It’s a very noteworthy spot.
And it just may be the most epically bad Super Bowl advertisement of all time.
It’s the Super Bowl. You win big, you lose big.