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Senior Writer, Ken Devoe

ken@annakleeberg.com

Memorable Stories – akg services

Apple’s Great Story That Was Almost Never Told

 

By the early 1980s, Apple opened people’s minds to the potential of personal computing to take powerful technology away from mainframes and computer rooms and put it on the desktop. But IBM jumped in and secured a stranglehold on the PC market, at least the business market. Technology then was text-based and complicated. That was just as true of the Apple II as the IBM PC. Yet when it came to plunking a lot of money down on a computer, IBM was a safe choice.  Their history and financial resources meant they weren’t going to disappear as so many computer start-ups did.

 

Meanwhile, Apple was developing a groundbreaking alternative to arcane computer technology. The Macintosh, with its graphical interface and point-and-click simplicity, was so easy to use, people could take it out of the box, plug it in and begin generating documents and artwork with no training, programming knowledge or computing skills of any kind.

 

But would people buy it in sufficient numbers to make Apple a sustainable business?

Macintosh was a great product that few knew about. Apple had a great story to tell. They needed a great storyteller and an equally great way to get the story out. With the help of their ad agency, Apple positioned Macintosh as “the computer for the rest of us.” They bought $250,000 worth of air time on the 1984 Super Bowl. This was long before advertisers understood the power of that platform to influence a worldwide audience. They hired film director Ridley Scott to shoot a commercial, showing a foggy room full of identical people staring at a huge video screen with a George Orwell “big brother” type character proclaiming the virtues of conformity (symbolizing the IBM world). A young female athlete charges into the room and hurls a sledgehammer into the screen, causing it to explode. Narrator Ed Grover intones: “ On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh, and you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984.” The commercial cost over $600,000 to produce and never showed the product. Steve Jobs loved it. His Board of Directors hated it, demanding he fire the agency and sell back the Super Bowl air time.  Fortunately, he didn’t. The ad aired only once but was shown countless times on the news.

 

What is less known is that Apple also bought all the ad space in the next issue of Newsweek and filled it with spreads demonstrating how the Macintosh really was the computer for the rest of us. Between the TV spot buzz and this print campaign, Apple demonstrated the superiority of their product and their legitimacy as a company. Consumers could buy this remarkable machine knowing the company behind it would be there for them.  Apple sold $155 million worth of Macs in the 90 days that followed the Super Bowl. Now, over 30 years and millions of Macs and iPhones later, Apple is the most valuable (in terms of market cap) company in the world.  Not bad.

 

Our point?  You have a terrific product or service. What you need are a great story and storyteller. 

 

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