Geek Trivia: The Mac and the myth

When did Apple's famous "1984" television commercial first air -- an appearance that predates its historic "debut" during Super Bowl XVIII?

Despite what the YouTube obsession with "Mac vs. PC" spoofs might lead you to believe, the definitive computer commercial for all time is, has been, and probably always will be the Apple Macintosh 1984 Super Bowl spot. Directed by a fresh-from-Blade Runner Ridley Scott and boldly implying that IBM was the evil corporate equivalent of Big Brother from George Orwell's novel 1984, most consider this commercial one of the most daring and innovative advertisements ever put to the airwaves.

And yet, Apple's board of directors almost didn't let it air.

Despite the fact that the first large audience to view the commercial — attendees of Apple's 1983 annual sales conference — lauded the spot, members of Apple's board were less than enthused about Scott's artful final product. Unfortunately, Apple's sales team and advertising agency had already bought two commercial time slots for Super Bowl XVIII — a 60-second position right after the second-half kickoff and a follow-up 30-second position later in the game, the latter of which would air a pared-down version of the "1984" spot.

Now, here's where the story gets murky, as there are various versions of subsequent events that have emerged over the years. Reportedly, the company's board of directors ordered Apple not to air the "1984" spot and sell back the Super Bowl time slots. (Steve Wozniak also supposedly offered to pay for the time slots himself if the Apple board wouldn't.)

Depending on whom you ask, Apple's advertising agency was either unable or unwilling (due to confidence in the commercial) to sell back both time slots. Instead, it unloaded only the 30-second follow-up position.

That left Apple with 60 seconds of Super Bowl airtime that had to be used. The board deferred to the judgment of its sales executives, who opted to air the "1984" commercial if for no other reason than to not waste the $1.6 million that went into producing the commercial and buying the airtime.

The rest, as they say, is history. The commercial grabbed the attention of millions, became an artifact of pop culture and a standard bearer for event marketing and Super Bowl commercial creativity, and launched the Macintosh line of personal computers — even though it aired only once.

Except for one thing: Despite the legend, the spot didn't air just during Super Bowl XVIII, nor was the Super Bowl spot the commercial's first time on television.


Get the answer.


Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

Editor's Picks