Best of 2020 No. 12: Fortnite's '1984' parody turns Apple into Big Brotherig Brother

Ad drops just as video game publisher Epic Games sues the tech giant after it kicked game out of the App Store

Published On
Aug 13, 2020

Editor's Pick

Until New Year's Day, we're counting down 2020's best brand campaigns and ideas.

No. 12: In a highly coordinated effort, Epic Games poked fun at Apple with a biting parody of the brand’s’s legendary “1984” Super Bowl spot directed by Ridley Scott. A“Fortnite” version of the ad re-cast Apple as Big Brother, just as the video game publisher filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the Cupertino company. It was a response to Apple’s ousting of “Fortnite” from the App Store after Epic added an in-app payment system within the game, circumventing Apple’s payment setup and giving gamers a discount. The lawsuit is ongoing (Facebook recently joined the battle in support of the game publisher), but Epic’s twist on such a seminal ad will surely go down as one of the ballsiest ad moves in modern marketing history. The original spot's director Scott went on to share with Ad Age his thoughts on the move.

Original Story:

Today, Fortnite threw “1984” in Apple’s face. In response to a fight that’s been brewing between the tech giant and the game’s publisher Epic Games that led to Apple ousting Fortnite from the App store, Epic is now suing the company and also released a parody of Apple’s iconic spot. But in this case, Apple is Big Brother. 

The Epic film, called “Nineteen Eighty-Fortnite,” features the same set up as Apple’s famous ad, but animated. Zombie-like minions peer up at a black-and-white screen. In place of the menacing bespectacled figure that appears in the original spot, there’s a character with a massive apple head, and the hero, a Fortnite gamer who hurls a unicorn scepter at his face.

“Epic Games has defied the App Store monopoly,” the spot reads. “In retaliation, Apple is blocking Fortnite from a billion devices. Join the fight to stop 2020 from becoming ‘1984.’” The ad also features plenty of Easter eggs, as Business Insider details.

Epic shared the spot on Twitter with the hashtag #FreeFortnite and is encouraging fans to stand up to Apple with it.

The Ridley Scott-directed “1984,” which channels George Orwell’s classic novel of the same name, is largely credited as the ad that turned the Super Bowl into an entertainment extravaganza. Founder Steve Jobs and Chiat/Day had used the ad to position Apple as the David attempting to overthrow the Goliath at the time, IBM.

Famously, in his keynote speech introducing the ad, Jobs announced, “IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?”

In its civil anti-trust lawsuit filed today, Epic Games cites Jobs’ quote and writes, “Fast forward to 2020, and Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation. Apple is bigger, more powerful, more entrenched, and more pernicious than the monopolists of yesteryear. At a market cap of nearly $2 trillion, Apple’s size and reach far exceeds that of any technology monopolist in history.”

Apple removed Epic’s best-selling game Fortnite from its App Store on Thursday after Epic added an in-app payment system within the popular game, evading Apple’s own payment setup and offering gamers a discount. The move was meant to circumvent the 30 percent transaction fees that Apple levies on developers who sell apps in its store. Players can still access the game if it is already downloaded on their phones, but new users cannot download the game. 

The news of Fornite’s removal was trending on Twitter and other social sites for most of the afternoon.

“Today, Epic Games took the unfortunate step of violating the App Store guidelines that are applied equally to every developer and designed to keep the store safe for our users,” an Apple spokesperson told The Verge. “Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines regarding in-app payments that apply to every developer who sells digital goods or services.”

On Twitter, people are concluding that Epic’s parody ad drop was planned in advance to coincide with the lawsuit.  

One detail in the ad that adds weight to that: the time stamp that appears on the screen in the spot features today's date. 

“The most interesting thing here is that this was clearly planned,” tweeted James Jarvis, head of video operations at media company Future. “Epic knew that by adding in the direct payment they would, most likely, be removed from the app store thus given them grounds for the lawsuit and release of the short film. These things don't happen in meer [sic] hours.” 

All this comes after Apple sued a small business because its logo (a pear) "appeared" like its apple icon," prompting people on social media to reflect on their own experiences where Apple came off as a "bully." What goes around, comes around.

Later, the original spot's director Scott shared with Ad Age his thoughts on the new ad