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The complete history of Apple at the Super Bowl: 1984, Lemmings, HAL, and Rihanna

Sunday February 12, 2023. 04:30 PM , from Macworld Reviews
You might have heard that the biggest football game of the year happening this Sunday—that’s “American football” for those in the U.K. But it’s not just about the Philadelphia Eagles vs. the Kansas City Chiefs: The Super Bowl is the most-watched sporting event in the U.S. as much for the commercials as for the game.

As tech publications like this one like to point out, Apple made what is perhaps the most memorable commercial in Super Bowl history way back in 1984. This often leads to the thought that Apple and the Super Bowl go hand-in-hand, but actually, Apple’s history with the game is quite short. But still, every year we hope Apple uses the biggest stage to showcase or tease a new product. And every year we’re disappointed.

But Super Bowl LVII could be different. After a 10-year run by Pepsi, Apple Music is sponsoring the Super Bowl halftime show, which is featuring Rihanna’s first major live appearance since 2016. Suffice it to say, it will be watched by some 100 million people, one of the largest audiences Apple has ever had. It’s the first time Apple is sponsoring the show, so we don’t really know what to expect. Will Rihanna be wearing AirPods? Will MacBooks grace the stage? And most importantly, will Apple run an ad during the big game?

Before we get to Sunday, here’s a history of Apple’s Super Bowl ads.

1984 (1984)

Apple’s 1984 ad is often called the greatest commercial in Super Bowl history. Directed by Ridley Scott of “Alien” and “Blade Runner” fame, the 60-second ad only aired only once, as the first commercial going into halftime of Super Bowl XVIII. Its theme was based on George Orwell’s novel, 1984, and the commercial’s bleak, dystopian imagery struck a chord during an era of populist conservatism and the Cold War. It was designed to generate hype for the announcement of the Macintosh on January 24, 1984, and it certainly accomplished its goal.

Scott’s direction left a lasting impression on popular culture, so much so that “Apple” and “Super Bowl” are synonymous–even though this ad didn’t feature a single Apple product.

Lemmings (1985)

In 1985, Apple–well aware of how effective 1984 was–aired a second ad during Super Bowl XIX. Titled Lemmings, the commercial was directed by Tony Scott, brother of Ridley, and features a similar tone to promote a new software suite called Macintosh Office, which was designed to connect a Macintosh to a printer and a file server.

The ad tried to capture the tone of 1984 and it definitely left an impression on viewers—just not the one Apple intended. With a massive hype campaign that included seat cushions during the big game and full-page newspaper ads warning viewers to skip their fourth-quarter bathroom break—Lemmings didn’t sit well with viewers. People watching found the ad depressing and insulting, and nowhere near as enticing as 1984.

HAL (1999)

After the Lemmings debacle, 15 years went by before Apple decided to debut a new commercial during the Super Bowl. The ad starred HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and with Stanley Kubrick’s blessing, was part of a theme with the AI antagonist that included the Macworld San Francisco and WWDC keynotes. The ad came during a time when there was growing concern that computers would stop working in the new year because of the Y2K bug, since PCs couldn’t 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 up to 29,940. Even though the Y2K bug turned out to be much ado about nothing, Apple’s third and final Super Bowl ad became a cult hit among fans.

I Fought the Law (2004)

While not technically an Apple ad, Pepsi’s 2004 commercial to announce its partnership with iTunes certainly felt like one. Featuring a Green Day cover of Sonny Curtis’s “I Fought the Law,” the ad featured 16 teenagers who were sued by the RIAA for illegally downloading music from the internet during Napster’s popularity. Ironically, it’s the only Super Bowl ad here to actually feature an Apple product–not an iPod but an iMac G4. The ad and the promotional campaign were a hit and helped propel the iTunes Music Store, which was barely a year old at the time, to new heights.

Rihanna (2023)

It’s been 24 years since the HAL commercial, and Apple is coming back to the Super Bowl–but this time it’s as the major sponsor of the Super Bowl’s show within a show, the halftime presentation. Apple calls it the Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show featuring Rihanna, who hasn’t performed live in public since 2018.

Apple has been hyping its presence at Super Bowl LVII all month within Apple Music’s Rihanna’s Road to Halftime section, which included:

Halftime Hype Radio: 10-part series that looks back at past halftime shows.Rihanna Revisited Radio: Eight-part series that reflects on Rihanna’s music catalog.Live from Super Bowl LVII: Daily live broadcasts that “capture the excitement” of the game and the halftime show.NFL team and player playlists.An interview with Rihanna on Apple Music Radio.

There’s also a rumor that Apple is making a behind-the-scenes documentary that will air on Apple Music int he coming weeks. And the performance will likely be available to stream following the show.

But will there be a new Apple ad during the big game as well? Thus far there aren’t any rumors that Apple is running a commercial, but Apple would probably want to keep such a thing under wraps. Plus, it’s common for the halftime show sponsor to run an ad during the Super Bowl—Pepsi, Bridgestone, Sprint, AOL, and others all had separate ads in addition to the sponsorship. And Apple has been running constant ads for Undo Send in Messages and Apple TV+ during the 2023 Playoffs, so a Super Bowl spot is definitely possible.

And the timing is right—Ridley Scott’s upcoming film Napoleon will be airing on Apple TV+ later this year. So maybe Apple got him to direct a follow-up to 1984? We’ll find out on Sunday.

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