March 29, 2008

Why This "1984" Won't Be Like Apple's "1984"


By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor

Okay, class, here's today's exercise in Advertising Ripoffs 101. Go to YouTube and watch the original Apple SuperBowl tease for the Mac Introduction by Chiat-Day and the great film director Ridley Scott.


Now dial up the Barack Obama ripoff Video. Mostly, as you see, it's the same commercial. Same monotone skinhead zombies, same gorgeous blonde sprinting down the center of the auditorium. some hammer flying through the air and bursting the screen, flooding the auditorium with its smoke and mirrors.

There are three differences. Replacing the Big Brother figure reading from George Orwell's "1984" novel--and metaphorically becoming the voice of IBM--is Hillary Clinton, speaking on whatever she's speaking on.


The second difference is the tease message in the final 10 seconds On the SuperBowl the super and voice-over urged the viewer to discover Mac and see why 1984 won't be like 1984. Here the viewer gets "On January 14, the Democratic primary will begin. And you'll see why 2008 won't be like 1984." The third difference is the Apple logo is not-so subtly converted to an O (for Obama) logo.


Got it? Got it. In the original Chiat-Day commercial, all the skinhead zombies sitting there represented computer equipment buyers in businesses and corporations who repeatedly--one might say religiously--bought IBM year after year after year because it was the safe choice and would never get them fired. The blonde gal was a metaphor for Apple and Mac, charging in to bust up all that safe, traditional, regimented thinking.

That tease commercial--which Lee Clow managed to sell to Steve Jobs over a lot of middle-management Apple objections (many execs thought the commercial far too obscure and arty)--was the precursor for Apple's eventual "Think Different" campaign which ran for years. "Think Different" said the same thing as "1984" but in a much more positive way--i.e., Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso and Lucille Ball and Alfred Hitchcock all thinking-outside-the-box, just as you, too, the office equipment buyer, can think different by comparing Apple and IBM and choosing Apple.


The Obama ripoff isn't really doing any of this. We have to assume that all the skinhead zombies listening to Hillary are voters--consumers like you and me, and that we've been mesmerized by Hillary's message and presence and track record for years and years. We have to figure Hillary's been dominating the political spectrum forever, just as IBM dominated the computer spectrum forever. But this isn't remotely the case. Ms. Clinton is a first-time presidential candidate, and generally speaking (depending on who you're speaking with) gets reasonable to high marks for her first stint of service in the Senate.


The second huge assumption this ripoff makes is that everyone will equate the young, white blonde woman coming to disrupt Hillary's speech with Barack Obama. Come again? If the figure of the young white woman had been replaced with, say, a young multi-ethnic or multi-racial or multi-multi male athlete, the analogy would be least be clear. We'd understand it, whether we agreed with it or not. First and foremost, advertising has to be clear or it's nothing.

By changing the critical casting of the original spot, the Obama rip would have had a fighting chance of communicating that it's time for a change from same-old-same-old politics. But whoever put this mashup together was a tactician, not a conceptualizer. The parties who did it may not even have realized the original IBM/Apple competition equation. They thought, if Hillary is Big Brother, that's all we need, and everybody will understand the young female is Barack Obama, in the guise of a 23-year-old television commercial. Get real.

On Madison Avenue, somebody is always sitting on the edge of the conference room table, telling some wary set of marketers on the other side who control the spending to "trust me, this is going to work." But this one doesn't, not in a blue moon.

Back to the drawing board, Hillary jammers.


Check in with us tomorrow for Kurt's take on ""1984": Hillary Strikes Back!"

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