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Why 2006 isn't like '1984'
Maybe the big game is better than the commercials now
By Todd Leopold
Anya Major gets ready to strike a blow for Apple in the famous "1984" commercial.
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(CNN) -- Super Bowl XVIII, on January 22, 1984, was a snooze, as most Super Bowls were before the Tom Brady era.
The Los Angeles Raiders were beating the Washington Redskins 21-3 at halftime, and my friends and I, watching the game in a dormitory lobby, were bored. About the only things we were paying attention to were the pizzas drooping over nearby tables and the comely delivery person who brought a new one every half-hour or so.
And then, it came on TV.
"It" was one of those events you're drawn to before you're even aware of it. We gradually noticed a droning voice under a grayed-out picture, an attractive runner in white tank top and red shorts wielding a sledgehammer, rows of bald automaton-like men, a giant TV screen featuring a ranting man. Is this a new movie of Orwell's "1984"?, I vaguely remember thinking. But what's the deal with that runner?
We were mesmerized.
Finally, the runner threw the sledgehammer at the giant screen, it exploded into white, and the scene cut to the shocked audience -- which may as well have been us.
"On January 24th," an announcer said, "Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.' " (Watch the ad here.)
It was all anybody could talk about the next day. (The Raiders won, 38-9. Yawn.) And it began a competition that continues to this day: the determination of advertisers to outdo one another in their Super Bowl ads.
After more than 20 years, I kind of wish they'd stop.
Eye on Entertainment explains its reasons.
The "1984" Apple Macintosh ad has been named adman Lee Clow's "masterpiece," the best commercial of the 1980s (Advertising Age) and the greatest commercial of all time (TV Guide). Nobody will ever outdo it in impact: It was unexpectedly, shockingly, uniquely distinctive amid the usual beer and car ads that passed for commercial breaks during the Super Bowl of those days. For a fine description of the commercial's creation and impact, click here.) It broke through what marketing people call "the clutter."
It carries its aura to this day: The Super Bowl airing was its only official national broadcast, period. If it appeared after that, it was on news programs or shows such as this Saturday night's "Super Bowl's Greatest Commercials" (8 p.m. ET on CBS). It still works, too: Ridley Scott, at the time a veteran of "Alien" and "Blade Runner" and now an Oscar winner for "Gladiator," directed, and the ad was both striking and informative, prompting its viewers to ask more about this new product.
That's something that can't be said for many of the ads that have run on the Super Bowl in recent years.
Go ahead, name a few. The Pepsi ads with Diddy hitching a ride, or Britney Spears, or the creepy one with the kid who gets stuck in the Pepsi bottle at the beach? Could have aired any time -- and almost certainly didn't suddenly encourage people to take another look at Pepsi.
The Budweiser frogs or Clydesdales? No different than the Bud ads you see during any other sports event.
The commercials from the dot-com boom in 2000? Whatever happened to those companies, anyway?
There is one that sticks out in my mind, one that broke through the clutter of computer graphics and talking babies and didn't come with a bowlful of hype. It was the low-budget bit of titillation for GoDaddy.com. That ad was stupid, sexist and silly, but I still remember it -- probably because it was so unlike the overblown mini-feature films that surrounded it.
This Sunday, I'm sure I'll be amused by some ads, infuriated by others and, in general, forget the whole bunch by Monday. After all, I'm trying to watch the game.
The Super Bowl begins around 6:25 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC. Pre-game coverage started last week. (Follow Super Bowl coverage at SI.com.)
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