Even Steve Jobs and TBWA\Chiat\Day got it wrong sometimes – Apple’s ‘Lemmings’ ad from 1985

The late Steve Jobs was nearly as interested in advertising as he was in his beloved products and in 1985, the year after Apple’s triumphant Super Bowl debut with Ridley Scott and Chiat Day’s ‘1984’ launch commercial for the Macintosh, the nascent company struck out completely with another Chiat Day Super Bowl epic, ‘Lemmings,’ which showed a troop of dopey middle managers paying the penalty for ignoring Apple’s new Office software.

Seen now (amid all the murk) it’s bloody obvious why it was a rotten ad (insulting the target market etc, no dynamism) but Jobs’ favourite adman Lee Clow , who went on to run Apple and TBWA’s Media Arts Lab and chair TBWA (TBWA bought Chiat Day), insisted on it and, later, a chagrined Apple considered running a public apology for it. Clow didn’t agree with that either.

All this stuff about advertising and more is in Walter Isaacson’s just-published biography ‘Steve Jobs’ (set to become Amazon’s biggest seller apparently) and has been gathered together handily by Ad Age.

Even the celebrated 1984 only just made it to the screen, as Apple CEO John Sculley, a former PepsiCo executive Jobs had brought in to run Apple like a ‘proper’ company, hated it and ordered Chiat Day to sell the airtime (Sculley, of course, later fired Jobs). Chiat Day sold a 30-second Super Bowl but hung on to the 60-second one, against orders. The ad never ran again.

Here’s 1984.

!984 in fact ran twice as crafty Chiat Day aired it late at night on a largely unwatched TV station late the previous year to ensure it qualified for 1984 award competitions.

Jobs and Clow (pictured together) went to to numerous ad triumphs, showing the deadly combination of a strong-minded and innovative client with a similar personality at the agency. You suspect it wouldn’t happen very often these days (actually it probably didn’t happen very much in those days either).

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.