The Irony Of Apple’s “1984”

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Apple’s “1984” TV spot is one of the most celebrated, audacious, high impact commercials ever made. It was the first true “Super Bowl” ad, mother to all of the over-the-top, disruptive, anything-to-get-your-attention spots that have populated our screens on that special Sunday afternoon every February for the past 30 years.

If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to click on the link above.

The spot depicts a bleak future. A sad, gloomy, Orwellian world stripped of any vestige of individuality. People are cogs in a vast state-controlled machine and can do little more than sleepwalk through their miserable existence.

But a hero emerges. The new Macintosh computer shatters the status quo and promises a return to freedom, creativity and individuality. The tagline:

“On January 24th, Apple will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.”

My friend Bill Stenton, a talented copywriter who worked with me at Chiat/Day in those early glory years of Apple, wrote a long, thoughtful response to the piece I posted on the Apple Watch on March 17, in which he expressed, among many other things, his concern about privacy in the digital age:

“Government and big corporations now know everything about us all the time. They know where we shop, what we buy, how we vote, how much money we have, whether we have kids, whether we go to church and which church we go to, whether we surf porn and what our proclivities are, when we miss a house payment, alimony payment, or AA meeting. They analyze our data, and reach out to us for our votes and dollars and dollars and dollars…You are always traceable, trackable, and spyable. Orwell is alive and well. People are giving up their freedom not only for security, but also for simple convenience.”

We all know that Apple is adept at collecting and analyzing data, and that our iPhones, Macs and iPads play right into what Bill is describing.

How ironic is this? The company who told us that 1984 would not turn into “1984” has evolved into one of the worst “1984”-like offenders!

Apple likely knows more about me than anyone in the world. I suppose it’s the price I pay for carrying around their iPhone, MacBook and iPad. And writing emails and connecting to the Internet. In other words, the cost of living a normal life in the 21st century.

I’ve already read about the possibility (inevitability?) of ads popping up on your Apple Watch. How unpleasant! One day, I suspect, the Apple Watch will work without depending on an iPhone which makes it all that much more insidious. As long as you’ve got it on, no matter where you go or what you do, Apple will be watching. Apparently, the Apple Watch is ironically named as well.

Santa Claus has come to town and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He knows when you’ve been naughty and knows when you’ve been nice. And he is most likely a lot more interested in the naughty bits. Not very comforting, is it?

The power of the Apple brand is truly awesome. They can do one thing but say another. Project a near-perfect image while eavesdropping on our every move. I regularly admit to drinking the Apple Kool-Aid myself – and loving it. Yet here we have this incredible irony, the company whose mission it was to democratize technology has created the highly sophisticated, nearly under-the-radar tools shatter our right to privacy and could ultimately serve to control us.

We marketers love data. Which sounds so much more sexy when you modify it with “big.” Oh, Big Brother, you’re so amazing! We love you! Oops. I meant Big Data…

  • Chris Pollard
    Posted at 09:13h, 16 October Reply

    Thank you for this, hopefully I can use it to provoke some discussion among my high school students who are reading 1984, and most of whom use macs!

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