We can easily claim that storytelling is, has always been and will always be an important part of human communication. Obviously, a story´s first and basic purpose is to entertain, but also to achieve several other objectives. Stories represent one of our most effective form of communication and we use them on a daily basis in order to educate our children, motivate people, send particular messages, make an information memorable and, of course, sell products. This fact was also recognised by powerful brands around the world. They are aware of what a good story can bring to a business and its bottom line.
Every year at this time, people talk about the most famous Super Bowl ad of them all, Apple’s “1984” ad for the original Macintosh computer. It ran in its full 60-second length on national television during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII on Jan. 22, 1984. The plot is based on George Orwell’s grimly predictive novel, also named “1984.”
The Apple’s “1984” ad begins in grey ambient, with an army of drones marching into an assembly as a Big Brother figure preaches from a towering screen: “Today we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directives …” The scene is intercut with shots of a blond woman in a white tank top and bright red shorts on the run, carrying a mallet, pursued by storm troopers. She bursts into the assembly and throws the mallet at the screen, unleashing an explosion and a blast of fresh air, as a voice-over reads the text of a product launch scheduled for two days hence: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’”
The Apple’s “1984” ad is in my opinion a masterpiece of storytelling due to of its conciseness. The author managed to reach buyers heart rather than their minds and establishing a strong connection with consumers in only 60 seconds. While there are many good stories, very few manage to engage customers and evoke interest in such a short time.
Many authors explain the storytelling technique used in the Apple’s “1984” ad as the “Monster”. Overcoming the monster is essentially where the hero needs to overcome hardship in order to restore balance to the world. The monster could typically be addiction, illness, debt or bad health, but it is just as likely to be progress. The monster in this case is a strong force that keeps the entire population under control. People are not free and have no possibility to choose what they want. They only have one choice (in this ad the author alludes to IBM, but in later ads Apple will point to Microsoft) and we cannot freely express ourselves when it comes to the decision which personal computer should we chose. The young women represent the hero who defeats the monster. Apple is portraited as a new strong player with its Macintosh computers, and frees the mankind of its corporate oppressors.
In addition to the “Monster” storyline framework, I have also identified another concept often used in storytelling called “in medias res”. Or at least a version of it. Apple’s “1984” ad begins in the heart of the action. During an assembly of big brother solders, a blond woman in a white tank top and bright red shorts is on the run, carries a mallet, and is pursued by storm troopers. The audience’s attention is caught already in the very beginning and they stay engaged to find out how this bizarre and unexpected scene will be resolved.
In the next scene, the author doesn’t start over at the beginning to explain how the blond woman in a white tank top and bright red shorts found it self in the situation, what a usual “in medias res” storyline would do but instead continues the scene. The author most likely chose this hybrid form of the “in medias res” storyline due to the limited time he had to convey his message. Therefore, the following scene already brings the resolution everybody was waiting for. The blond woman in a white tank top and bright red shorts destroys the screen of the big brother and creates an explosion.
I chose the Apple’s “1984” ad instead of a longer story as for instance a movie or book, because I believe that the storytelling behind it, can teach us how to prepare for important presentations where we will have a very limited time to bring our message across. Furthermore, in business context we will rarely be in situations where we have enough time to make a long story. Analysing the storytelling behind the Apple’s “1984” ad can be applied to many business situations such as start-up pitching or presentation for executives. Using storytelling techniques as “in media res” and “the monster” are the best for presentations where the presenter needs to grab attention from the start, keep an audience craving resolution and focusing attention on an important moment.