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Apple's Worst Commercial: The Martinettis Buy a Computer


This three-act Apple computer "storymercial" spoon-fed its audience the wonders of personal computing with an extra helping of Velveeta.

If anything can match the sexiness of Apple (AAPL) products, its the über cool marketing campaigns that sell them. Created by New York/Los Angeles hipster ad agency TBWAChiatDay, the beautifully-shot commercials, scored by underground indie rock (consequently launching the careers of bands like Jet and Feist), mirror the cutting edge design we've come to expect with Apple gadgetry.

But betwixt that groundbreaking Ridley Scott-directed "1984" commercial and today's finger-on-the-pulse status quo, there was a dark period in Apple advertising. It was in 1995, specifically, that Hawthorne Communications, from advertising hotbed Fairfield, IA, unleashed upon the world another dystopia, far more foreboding than any Orwellian existence. This time, the face on the big screen spouting its ideological rhetoric didn't belong to Big Brother; it belonged to a suburban family of superdorks at the heart of Apple's disaster ad: "The Martinettis Bring Home A Computer." (Scroll down to watch the video.)
This three-act storymercial that heralded the introduction of the Macintosh Performa spoon-fed its audience the wonders of personal computing with an extra helping of Velveeta. Part of the cringe factor is simply a result of the characters' navieté about this computer "with the future built right in" that, by today's standards, is laughably prehistoric.

But the infomercial obviously can't be blamed for lauding a disk drive, CD-ROM drive or modem as cutting edge. Trotting out Claris Works as innovative word processing software, introducing Apple's online service, eWorld (enabling you to "make friends all over cyberspace"), boasting a CRT monitor with "TV quality" images and literally referring to "multimedia" as "exciting technologies" -- all of those things, while smacking of the "what life was like before television" grandparent effect, are not the ad's fault.

No, the real eyeball stabbing element about the commercial is that it's couched in a sitcom format with a wannabe Wonder Years sentimentality and grating, stereotyped characters. The "wild story," narrated by middle child TJ, the next generation Encyclopedia Britannica kid, follows the Martinetti family as they buy their first home computer.

The only family member reticent about the Performa purchase is "Pop," the Martinetti's stick-in-the-mud patriarch. His argument that "the world got along fine for thousands of years without computers" leaves the rest of the clan lovingly shaking their heads under the score of a muted trombone. Even Schubert, the golden retriever, rolls over in chagrin. TJ remarks about his stubborn dad, "If you told him the computer could take you to the moon, he'd want to go three times to make sure."

It's only when live-in Grandpa Carmine (whose onscreen entrance you expect to be followed by a toilet flush sound effect) offers to pay for the Performa that Pop agrees to bring it home. But there's a catch! If after one month, the family could prove the computer's value to Pop, he'd have to reimburse Gramps and the computer wouldn't be returned (back in the day when Macs came with a 30-day money-back guarantee?).

And so the trial of the Martinettis' Macintosh Performa began.

Math-challenged TJ practiced drills on CD-ROM games. Gramps, a classical music lover, joined an online opera lovers forum and recorded little sister Zoe playing her clarinet while she "put pictures and words together!" from a trip to the zoo. And what now feels like a nod to Performa's Jurrasicness, Mom utilized the design software to create a greeting card of a dinosaur in a party hat saying "Have a Groovin B'Day!!!" and faxed a draft to her publisher. She also produced the first-ever Martinetti newsletter.

But it was Pop himself who, despite himself, loosened his vice grip on monotony and, after everyone was asleep, took the Performa for a spin. To his surprise, the computer wasn't just about writing book reports, playing games, "e-mailing" or looking at pictures on the Internet. It actually served the practical needs of adult men. He got stock quotes on eWorld, balanced the family budget and even used dos files from the office.

Spoiler alert: The Martinettis did get to keep the Peforma. TJ's math grades improved, Gramps made a love connection with a fellow opera forum member... and even Schubert got his paws on it. But as TJ put it, "We didn't only get a computer. It got us."

Click here to return to "The Mythology of Apple" and our complete list of Apple stories.

Why is Apple so important to us? What's next for the iconic brand? Click here to continue reading from our series on the mythology of Apple. You'll also find a link to our video, "Is Apple a Religion?"

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