In case you're too lazy to watch a one-minute ad, the commercial depicts a Dystopian universe in which an army of bald drones are marching into a hall where a man on a giant screen, generally understood to be Big Brother, is praising them for their conformity of thought. Meanwhile, a young athletic woman runs into the room, pursued by the apparent Secret Police, and throws a hammer at the screen. The screen explodes and an announcer says, "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984."
If you're wondering how the hell this is an ad for a computer, Steve Jobs put it this way: "It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers initially welcoming IBM with open arms now fear an IBM dominated and controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"
However, the creators of the ad have said that Big Brother represents something less specific than a powerful industry rival. In this interpretation, Big Brother stands for the idea that technology will be used by the few to dominate the many, and the commercial is saying that Apple's philosophy is that technology, namely personal computers, will instead liberate the individual. For the makers of the commercial, Orwell's novel epitomized the idea of technology being used to control the masses, making the reference to 1984 more than incidental.
In 2004, Apple created a twentieth-anniversary version in which an iPod is digitally added to the runner.
This commercial provides examples of:
- Action Girl: The heroine, of course. A favorite trope of Ridley Scott, no less.
- Adaptational Karma: Big Brother is (apparently) defeated in the ad in contrast to the Downer Ending of Orwell's novel.
- Ambiguous Gender: The drones appear androgynous.
- Dada Ad: Often regarded as one.
- Drop the Hammer: The runner flings her hammer at the screen with Big Brother on it.
- He Who Fights Monsters: A common retrospective opinion of the ad is that Apple itself has become Big Brother.The Nostalgia Critic: Yes, Apple will save us from the terrifying 1984-style future. For as we can clearly see today, no longer are people lined up like cattle for hours and hours on end! [picture of large crowds outside an Apple Store] No longer will people dress alike in cold, colorless environments! [pictures of Apple employees all wearing blue shirts, and the bland interior walls of an Apple store] No longer will any cultish-style groups gather together to honor a grand, controversial leader! [pictures of Apple devotees, and Steve Jobs] And most importantly, no longer will we be brain-dead, lifeless zombies who plug ourselves into the machine of life we can also call "The System"! [pictures of people staring at their cell phones] Thank you, Apple. You have done well.
- No Name Given: None of the characters in the commercial are named. Due to the explicit Orwell reference, the villain is always referred to as "Big Brother," but he's never actually called that in the commercial itself. The female protagonist, who obviously has no counterpart in the Orwell novel, has been variously referred to as "the runner," "the girl," "the heroine," etc.
- Nothing Can Stop Us Now!: "We shall prevail!" are Big Brother's last words before the screen explodes.
- Stock Parodies: A common target of this. It's been parodied by Futurama in the episode "Future Stock" (here) and in other commercials (here and here). There are also many YouTube mashups in which Big Brother is replaced by a hated politician or other public figure. The trend was probably started by this one, which endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the 2008 U.S. election.
- What Were They Selling Again?: If you look closely, the woman's tank top has a cubist impression of a Macintosh computer on it. That's the only presence of the product in the ad.
- Vapor Wear: The runner's lack of a bra is, shall we say, amply apparent.