4A's Conference

Clow And Hayden Reminisce About Making Apple's '1984'

When Having a Personal Computer Was Like 'Having a Personal Drone'

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For about a half hour on Wednesday afternoon, two creative icons in the ad business -- Lee Clow and Steve Hayden -- came together to discuss the experience 28 years ago of creating the now-legendary "1984" ad for Apple.

Apple '1984'
Apple '1984'

Speaking to a roomful of rapt attendees at the 4A's conference, Mr. Clow said, "Steve and I were there when Steve Jobs showed that commercial for the first time to Apple's employees and sales force. ... This may have been the moment when ... the democratization of technology actually began. Computers, in Steve's mind and Apple's mind, should belong to people, not to organizations."

Looking around the room, Mr. Hayden noticed several students. He asked for a show of hands for those born after 1984, and many hands went up. He explained the context in which the Apple ad was created, stressing that personal computing was not an ordinary thing back then. It was like having a "personal cruise missile, or personal drone," he said. "It's not something average people thought about going to the store for and bringing one home."

Much of what the two discussed has been said publicly before, including that Apple's directors loathed the spot and tried to kill it. But Mr. Hayden gave a more colorful description of that boardroom scene, depicting executives with their heads in their hands, urging that the agency be fired for doing such terrible work. In contrast, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak -- who was still around at the time -- wanted it to air so badly that he offered to write a personal check paying for half and hoping that Jobs would pay for the rest.

There was also the matter of Mr. Jobs' famous perfectionism and extreme statements to creatives, such as "I want one commercial that will stop the world in his tracks" and "If Macintosh doesn't take over the world in 100 days, it's all finished."

"He was never very demanding," Mr. Clow quipped about his former client and good friend.

But Messrs. Clow and Hayden also sprinkled some less-well-known tidbits throughout their talk, such as that the copy in the TV spot had originally been intended for a print ad. They explained the thrill of working with Director Ridley Scott, who was in town at the time shooting "Blade Runner." And their very tight budget: Actors appearing in the ad worked for $25 a day.

Perhaps the most surprising thing to come out of the discussion was that for all its notoriety, "1984" may make some wonder whether it meets the criteria of what is now termed a "scam ad."

"The myth is that '1984' ran only once, on the Super Bowl," said Mr. Hayden. But it also aired at 2:00 a.m. in certain places "so that it would be eligible for award shows," he added.

Oddly, it also ran in Boca Raton, Fla., which was then the headquarters of the IBM PC division "just to piss them off," Mr. Hayden said.

At the end of the session, Mr. Clow pointed out that Mr. Jobs, though the founder of a technology company, believed that TV commercials, billboards and print ads were powerful tools for marketing products to consumers.

"Steve Jobs was passionate about all the traditional media that people think are being eclipsed by social media," Mr. Clow said. "That is the genius of new media -- the audience now are really smart, and they are going to figure out what brands they want to spent time with."

It was the only session at the 4A's to get a standing ovation.

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