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Look back at the people and trends that shaped our world, 1979-1999

Chiat/Day's 1983 ad for the Apple Lisa sparked a new ideal for what work could be

It used to be that work was work and life was life. Then a particular L.A. adman, of all people, crafted a new vision--in a commercial, of all things. In that vision, work and life came together. We did what we loved and loved what we did. We woke alert to the heady spell of new ideas, biking to work as the sun rose, because the day couldn't start soon enough. We wore jeans, not the suits we once donned as armor. With powerful technology to do our bidding, we performed thrilling deeds before we even stopped for breakfast. It was a beautiful dream. We're dreaming it still.

Early one morning in 1983, Jay Chiat, cofounder of Chiat/Day, which was the hot ad firm of the moment, headed to a site in downtown Los Angeles, just two blocks from the Biltmore Hotel. There he met up with a crew preparing to film his television commercial for Apple Computer's newest model, the Lisa.

Although the Lisa would never become a hot product--Apple would have to wait for its Macintosh before taking the world by storm--the commercial being shot that day would change the way America thought about work.

The 60-second ad offered fewer than 65 words. Its director, Adrian Lyne, was on the cusp of fame; later he would direct such notorious films as Fatal Attraction and Lolita. Its star was then young and unknown, but we certainly know him now. It was Kevin Costner.

But it was not latent star power that gave the ad such impact. Rather, it was the idea behind the plot, an idea that seemed very close and very real: that work could be different, that it could be all-consuming, that it could incite passion.

As the ad begins, the sun is just rising. The streets are empty but for a man and his dog. Our hero--call him Kevin--is biking to the office, his faithful companion in tow. Kevin looks as though he's rolled right out of bed. He hasn't shaved. He's wearing jeans and an open-neck shirt. Yet he is obviously very serious; you might say driven. He is a man on a mission, energized by some compelling new idea freshly minted in the night. It must-- must--be worked out on his computer right now. That's how exciting it is, how satisfying: life and work thrillingly intertwined.

There's a bit of voice-over along lines that seem clichéd today--"At Apple we understand that business as usual isn't anymore"--but we're not really listening. We're watching the guy in the cool clothes, captivated by his rapt concentration. The phone on his desk rings. Kevin answers. He smiles and oozes into the phone, "Yeah, I'll be home for breakfast." Oh, baby. This is no mere wage slave. And the voice-over kicks in again: "Soon there'll be just two kinds of people--those who use computers and those who use Apples."

Now there's a tough call. Which do you want to be? One of the faceless drones, or a passionate entrepreneur, like our hero?

Chiat sold his agency four years ago. Now he's in New York City, temporarily running Screaming Media, an Internet company that streams custom news to business-to-business Web sites. He was an early investor in the company and now, at 66, has just completed a private placement. In their comments for this story, Chiat and John Carroll--a 17-year advertising-industry veteran, former advertising columnist for the Boston Globe, and now managing editor of Greater Boston, a daily public-television arts-and-culture news show--took a fresh look at the groundbreaking commercial. With the benefit of hindsight, they recalled what the ad was trying to do, and hazarded opinions on how true a picture it painted of the entrepreneurial future--the one we're living in now.

Commenting on the classic Apple spot are its creator, Chiat/Day cofounder Jay Chiat, and veteran advertising columnist John Carroll.

[Image of man riding bicycle through city streets in early morning with a dog.]
CHIAT: The whole idea was to try to have young, ambitious, highly motivated people identify with our product. The ad was really trying to say, "Hey, this is a good-looking young person who's obviously ambitious because he's in on the weekend. He's the kind of person you'd like because he's got a dog. We want you to like the product and the company." It really was about people buying products from companies they liked.