Contrary to what the past decade’s TV commercials may indicate, Apple’s advertising hasn’t always been so tepid and generic. Before the era of the much-lampooned “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” commercials, which starred Justin Long as the chilled out Apple computer and John Hodgman as the shamefully square PC, the company cultivated an iconoclastic image. Who could forget the radical 1984 commercial where Apple slammed 1980s conformity, or the “Think Different” campaign, where Jobs waxed lyrical about the “crazy ones, misfits, rebels and rule breakers?” No surprise, then, that Apple decided to burnish its rebel credentials by hiring none other than the father of gonzo journalism to star in one of its TV spots.
Above, you can view Hunter S. Thompson’s brief “Power is” Apple commercial. The ad seems to date to some point in the 1990s; at least, that’s what the whirlwind of cuts, oddly angled shots, shaky camerawork, and edgy guitar riffs seem to suggest. The commercial’s premise appears to be that Thompson both knows what power is, and how to use it to stick it to The Man.
Presumably, simply having Thompson in the ad gave Apple enough countercultural cachet, since he never mentions either the company or its product. This may have been the result of previous grievances: according to legend, the journalist had received a Mac from the editors of the San Francisco Examiner in the mid-1980s, in hopes that the gadget would help him transmit his perennially late copy to the paper on time. Despite its many features, however, the Mac couldn’t stand up to Thompson’s temper (he was known to lose his cool when dealing with electronics). In a fit of rage, Thompson blew the machine to smithereens with his shotgun, and sent the remains to his editors. Power, indeed.
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Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman, or read more of his writing at the Huffington Post.
Hunter S. Thompson’s Harrowing, Chemical-Filled Daily Routine
Hunter S. Thompson Calls Tech Support, Unleashes a Tirade Full of Fear and Loathing (NSFW)
Johnny Depp Reads Letters from Hunter S. Thompson (NSFW)
Hunter S. Thompson Remembers Jimmy Carter’s Captivating Bob Dylan Speech (1974)
I am the copy writer who wrote this spot – although, in actuality, Thompson wrote it himself. This was part of our “Power” campaign for Macintosh, which ran on MTV and featured other notable folks such as George Clinton, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. You’re right, the spot dates to 1995.
Thompson came on the set, already drunk, with the aid of a walking cane. In photographs he looked hearty and healthy, but in real life his skin was pasty; he had the fragile look of a veteran alcoholic. He was generally pleasant, quiet – and kept to himself on the set. If anything, he seemed a bit uncomfortable with all the people around.
We filmed Thompson for about an hour. But between his staccato/mumbling delivery and the clinking of ice cubes in his ever-present scotch glass, we were lucky to get 30 seconds of usable material. But – it was Hunter S. Thompson.
After shooting and editing the spot, one of our clients at Apple learned of Thompson’s druggy reputation, and killed the spot. It ran once at midnight in Dubuqe or something . . . so we could enter it in the advertising awards shows.
The deal on these spots was that the celebrities received the Macintosh of their choice. No big money – just a computer. Mostly they did it because they liked Apple, and they didn’t mind getting some exposure on MTV, which was then a hot place to be seen.
While most of the celebrities requested a simple Powerbook or desktop computer, Thompson loaded up, demanding for the largest CPU, the biggest screen, a printer and scanner . . . the most expensive top-of-the-line equipment Apple made. He ran up several thousand dollars in hotel bills, mainly liquor. This made him easily the most expensive participant in the campaign – and afterwards everyone felt he’d taken advantage of the situation somewhat . . .
I don’t know if he ended up using any of that Apple technology; I noticed that he was still using a typewriter up until the end of his life . . .
At about this time, I began filming a documentary on Charles Bukowski, “Bukowski: Born into This.” It was a fun time in my life and career.
Thanks for featuring this old, obscure spot. Where did you find it? Not many folks know of its existence.
Thank you for this background. I love hearing how campaigns like this were planned and executed, especially if changes took place during or afterwards. Did you ever work with Ken Segall (http://kensegall.com/blog/)?