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How the iconic Apple '1984' Super Bowl ad almost never happened

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Most advertising executives and analysts will tell you that Apple's 60-second spot from 1984, a take on the George Orwell novel "1984," is the all-time best Super Bowl ad.

The ad, produced by agency Chiat/Day, shows a woman (the actress Anya Major) running into a drab hall of brainwashed citizens and throwing a sledgehammer at a screen displaying a Big Brother-like face. Scrolling text reads: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'"

It was the birth of Apple's (AAPL) brand identity as something unique, a way to escape the drone-like corporate world and express your originality. Apple stuck with that branding and still employs it today. (Think of Steve Jobs' favorite motto, "Think different.") The advertisement was a smash success—it forced people to watch. and it left them talking about it the next day. It was unlike anything people had ever seen in the Super Bowl. And it almost never ran, because some Apple boardmembers hated it.

On Tuesday at 8/7c, CBS will air an annual special, "Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials," in which it counts down the 50 best Super Bowl ads of all time. But this year, for the 50th Super Bowl, the show will also present a special segment devoted to the making of the famous Apple ad. In the segment, former Apple executives like John Sculley, who was CEO from 1983 to 1993, and Bill Campbell, VP of marketing from 1983 to 1991, discuss the birth of the risky commercial.

The thinking at the time, Sculley says, was, "We've gotta do something that is just so incredibly outrageous it will stop the world." Sculley and Jobs loved the commercial, but the board of directors did not. "This is the worst television commercial I've ever seen," Sculley recalls one of the board members saying. They wanted to pull the spot.

Steve Jobs reportedly insisted that the ad still run. The rest is... well, you know the rest. Apple ran another ad the next year, in 1985, called "Lemmings," but the response was tepid; it has never run a Super Bowl ad again since.

For more, watch the clip above, which Yahoo Finance can exclusively share ahead of time. And for further coverage of the Super Bowl 50 ad bonanza, check out the stories below.

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