You may have heard that this Sunday is the biggest football game of the year – it’s “American football” for those in the UK. the US event is as much for publicity as it is for the game.
As tech publications like this are fond of pointing out, back in 1984, Apple made perhaps the most memorable ad in Super Bowl history. This often leads one to believe that Apple and the Super Bowl go hand in hand, but in reality, Apple’s history with the game is quite short. But still, every year we hope that Apple uses the biggest stage to showcase a new product. And every year we are disappointed.
But Super Bowl LVII might be different. After 10 years with Pepsi, Apple Music is sponsoring the Super Bowl halftime show, which will see Rihanna perform live for the first time since 2016. Suffice it to say that about 100 million people will watch it, which is one of the largest audiences. Apple has ever had. This is the first time Apple is sponsoring the show, so we don’t know what to expect. Will Rihanna wear AirPods? Will MacBooks grace the stage? And most importantly, will Apple show ads during the big game?
Before we get to Sunday, here’s the story behind the Apple Super Bowl ad.
Apple 1984 the ad is often cited as the greatest ad in Super Bowl history. Directed by Ridley Scott of Alien and Blade Runner fame, the 60-second commercial was shown only once as the first halftime commercial for Super Bowl XVIII. Its theme was based on George Orwell’s novel, 1984, and the ad’s dark, dystopian imagery resonated with populist conservatism and the Cold War. It was designed to create buzz around the announcement of the Macintosh on January 24, 1984, and it certainly hit its mark.
Scott’s direction has made a lasting impression on popular culture, so much so that “Apple” and “Super Bowl” have become synonymous, even though no Apple product was featured in this ad.
In 1985, Apple, well aware of how effective 1984 a second ad was shown during Super Bowl XIX. Name lemmingsthe commercial was directed by Tony Scott, Ridley’s brother, and has a similar tone to promote a new software suite called Macintosh Office that was designed to connect a Macintosh to a printer and file server.
The ad tried to convey the tone 1984 and it definitely made an impression on viewers – but not the one that Apple intended. With a massive ad campaign that included seat cushions during the big game and full-page newspaper ads warning viewers to skip the restroom break in the fourth quarter…lemmings the audience didn’t like it. People who watched the ad found it depressing and offensive, and nowhere near as enticing as 1984.
After lemmings fiasco, it took 15 years before Apple decided to introduce a new commercial during the Super Bowl. HAL from 2001: Space Odyssey, and with the blessing of Stanley Kubrick, was part of the AI antagonist theme, which included keynotes from Macworld San Francisco and WWDC. The ad came at a time when there was growing concern that computers would stop working in the new year due to a Y2K bug, since PCs would not be able to understand the year 2000 and chaos would ensue.
Apple used the ad to promote the Mac’s immunity to the Y2K bug due to its ability to understand years prior to 29,940. Even though the Y2K bug turned out to be a hype for nothing, the third and final Apple Super Bowl ad became a cult hit with fans.
I Fought the Law (2004)
It’s not technically an Apple ad, but a 2004 Pepsi ad that announced a partnership with iTunes certainly looked like one. The commercial for Green Day’s cover of Sonny Curtis’ “I Fought the Law” featured 16 teenagers who were sued by the RIAA for illegally downloading music from the Internet during the Napster era. Ironically, this is the only Super Bowl ad that actually shows an Apple product—not an iPod, but an iMac G4. The ad and promotional campaign was a hit and helped push the iTunes music store, barely a year old at the time, to the next level.
It’s been 24 years since the HAL ad and Apple is back at the Super Bowl, but this time as the main sponsor of the Super Bowl show as part of the show, the halftime presentation. Apple is calling the show the Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show featuring Rihanna, who hasn’t performed in public since 2018.
Apple advertised its presence at Super Bowl LVII all month in Apple Music’s “Rihanna’s Road to Break” section, which included:
Halftime Hype Radio: A 10 part series featuring past halftime shows.
Rihanna Revisited Radio: An eight-part series focusing on Rihanna’s music catalog.
Super Bowl LVII Live: Daily live streams that “capture the excitement” of the game and halftime show.
Playlists of NFL teams and players.
Interview with Rihanna on Apple Music Radio.
There are also rumors that Apple is filming a behind-the-scenes documentary that will be streaming on Apple Music in the coming weeks. And the performance will likely be available for streaming after the show.
But will there be new Apple ads during the big game? There are no rumors yet that Apple is running a commercial, but Apple will likely want to keep it under wraps. In addition, halftime show sponsors often advertise during the Super Bowl—Pepsi, Bridgestone, Sprint, AOL, and others have had separate ads in addition to the sponsorship. And Apple is constantly running “Undo Send” ads in Messages and Apple TV+ during the 2023 playoffs, so a Super Bowl spot is definitely a possibility.
And the Timing Is Right – Ridley Scott’s Upcoming Film Napoleon will air on Apple TV+ later this year. So maybe Apple made him direct a sequel. 1984? We’ll find out on Sunday.