advertising and other stuff. no, really.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

“None of the Super Bowl ads were as good as 1984.”


Because it was one of a kind, so move along. After seeing a few mentions like this Sunday however, looks like closure will have to wait until next year. Listen, freaks, the factors that converged to make the spot what it was are almost impossible to bring together again. Sure, you see some aspects of it in commercials since, but then on the other hand, parts of it have already been improved upon, almost rendering the point moot.

It’s great to think each year might bring that one spot that makes you forget 1984; hope’s funny like that. (Each year, Bills’ fans have hope too.) The Super Bowl comparison is apt because people don’t understand how much has to go right for a team to even make it to a Super Bowl, let alone win one. In the interest of putting this one to rest though, take a look at what went into the classic to see how many ads really ever have a shot at being the next One.

1) Epic theme. 1984 was a ‘big’ spot. It wasn’t talking about tax returns or Snickers bars, but something more. Thousands of soulless people working for corporate evil. No way out. But help was on the way in the form of Macintosh. You will be free. Depending on your point of view, that spot was either a brilliant commentary on Big Brother’s oppressive cubicle life, or a textbook example of hyping a product before launch.

2) Innovative founder. A CEO who created the brand, and who demanded insanely great advertising from his agency.

3) Production value. No other spot felt that cinematic. Not by accident either because it was done by Ridley Scott, who’d already directed the classics Alien and Blade Runner. That was a big deal. The world of TV and film were still very much church and state—ya’ gotta keep ’em separated. Everyone in film looked down on TV as some kind of second-class citizen. Here though was a spot that had the look and feel of one of his sci-fi flicks.

(The stigma of working in TV is gone now, for both actors and directors. Anyone from Martin Scorsese to Spike Lee to John Turturro shill for brands. A-list director for your next commercial? *Yawn* Sure, no problem, take your pick as long as the check clears. Tangential to the point, but the next stigma for TV and film people: Doing content for the internet.)

As for production value now, different story there too. What’s being done in terms of CGI and animation for both film, TV and the internet is sick. There’s really nothing in TV commercials that hasn’t already been done in film or online. Even the smallest brands do amazing stuff. The full-blown epic feel of 1984? Brands like Capitol One, GM or Nike do that stuff in their sleep.

So with quality that good now and 1984 being head and shoulders above the others 25 years ago, an ad has to do something beyond amazing just to stand out. 3D? Maybe. But it’s just a tactic if the rest of the pieces are missing.

4) Great agency.

5) Desire. Basically, like all ads, Apple had one task: Making you believe not just that you needed a Macintosh, but that you wanted one. Computers were for the office. Why would I need something I use for work—at home? But this was different—it was a Macintosh.

Since then, what product has been introduced during the Super Bowl that changed a category, let alone invented one. Only one comes to mind is maybe GoDaddy? (Before their first Super Bowl appearance, who but geeks ever thought of domain names?)

Admittedly, the difference with GoDaddy is that they used shock value to get their name in your head rather than try and connect with you on a deeper level. Like the vibe created with the moose spot. Thing is, there have been too many commercials in recent years with the “I’m miserable because my job sucks...” theme. (While the moose may have connected, it didn’t necessarily break through the category. Chimps with lasers though? GENIUS!)

6) Brand identity. Apple always knew what it was from the beginning: Different. Not just different in the category, but different from any brand.

7) It ran once. Yeah, I know, technically it ran twice, and now lives on forever on the net. Not then though. Day after? You couldn’t run to YouTube to look for it. You talked about it wherever you were. Point is, now, everything is “leaked” to ad blogs and the media two weeks in advance, all so that we can write about it and build buzz. Don’t forget the behind the scenes clips too! Awesome. *sigh*

Sure would be nice for a change to show up and watch a Super Bowl with no clue of what’s coming next. Nothing builds a legend quite like that.

8) New toy. Another reason it’s hard to find the next 1984, most brands that run on the Super Bowl don’t have anything new to sell in terms of product. Macintosh would be very new. This year? Only new thing Pepsi had to sell was a logo. Bud? Toyota? More of the same benefits. Sorry, but drinkability and wider payloads don’t redefine categories. Not that they were going for that, but without something new to sell, the mystique of 1984 shouldn’t even be on your mind. (Credit to for not caving into the madness.)

9) Context. You relate to an ad based on how you’re life is going. Millions of office workers related to the gray mass of identical humans. Of all the brands this year, I actually thought out of any brand this year, Pepsi had the best shot at being 1984, what with the Obama Hope vibe and all.

So does any ad have a chance to be the One? Sure, they all do, no? Except that the majority of ads only have a few of the things above going for them. Unless you can check the boxes on all of those, ya’ got no hope. With the way things have changed now, doubtful any ad will ever surpass it. If you find one, lemmee know. Otherwise, go ahead, keep watching the game waiting for it.

Problem is, 1984 already came and went.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You nailed it! I'm and IT guy and know the agency was Chiat/Day. How sick is that.