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Apple’s 1999 Super Bowl commercial feat. HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey – watch it & read how it came to be

The Super Bowl is over for another year, but it’s not just the winners or the half-time show that make the headlines. Now, more than ever, it’s the commercials that get people talking.

A big drop from last night was a trailer for Stranger Things Season 2, and in reality, it’s these sporadic culprits – those that don’t show a commercial every year – that are most exciting. Apple’s certainly one of these, and it reminds us of its HAL commercial from 1999. That was a full fourteen years after its previous Super Bowl commercial, Lemmings. That ad proved to be far less successful than the previous year’s 1984 – one of Apple’s best.

HAL, the benevolent computer from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was utilized in Apple’s Super Bowl commercial of 1999 to warn of the Y2K bug – famously freaking out PC users, whereas Macs would be entirely unaffected due to differences in the way they tracked dates (although, to be fair, we all proved to be unaffected by the bug.)

And it’s not just us musing over Apple’s famous commercials of yore, Ken Segall, a creative director that headed up the HAL commercial with Apple has just written a blog post describing what it was like creating a seminal advertising campaign in the Steve Jobs era.

“The process was not at all like what you find in most big companies today (including Apple,)” writes Segall, before discussing his conversations with Jobs. He writes:

“In a phone conversation with Steve Jobs, the topic of Y2K came up. Steve cheerfully pointed out that Macs didn’t have a Y2K problem. They were designed with more foresight, and would function perfectly until the year 29,940. (No exaggeration.)

“Maybe we should do an ad about this,” he said.

There was no talk about Super Bowls, TV, magazines or billboards. Just “an ad.” Steve was more enamored with the idea than where it might run.

So I went off to think about it. The Mac’s immunity to Y2K was interesting, but how could we turn that into a brand ad that would appeal to the mainstream audience?”

Segall goes on to discuss Jobs’ reaction to his idea and the challenges in securing various rights in using HAL, and how it eventually ended up airing during the Super Bowl.

It’s a fascinating insight into Jobs, the advertising industry, and of course Apple as a whole. We recommend giving it a quick read.

Read the full post.