Sterling Ambivalence (sterlingnorth) wrote,
Sterling Ambivalence

On Vox: A cult to commerce.

I understand John Gruber's disdain of the term "Cult of Mac". It can be used to imply that nobody who buys a Macintosh computer, or any Apple product, does so for pragmatic or rational reasons. However, Apple has most successfully built and harnessed something that can be compared to a cult.

[Mark] Lindstrom, a marketing guru who advises everyone from fast-food companies to drugmakers, partnered with Oxford scientists to conduct a three-year, $7 million study scanning the brains of 2,000 people while they were shown various marketing strategies. What they found surprised them. In one of the most startling examples, the researchers scanned brains while the subjects were exposed to images of popular brands and religious icons.

Lindstrom wrote: "The room went dark and the images began to flicker past: A bottle of Coca-Cola. The Pope. An iPod. A can of Red Bull. Rosary beads. A Ferrari sports car. The eBay logo. Mother Teresa. An American Express card. The BP sign. A photograph of children playing. The Microsoft logo."

When Lindstrom and the researchers analyzed the results, they noted that strong brands fired up activity in parts of the brain controlling memory, emotion and decision-making. That was expected. But then they compared those results with what happened when the subjects looked at religious images. To their surprise, "their brains registered the exact same patterns of activity," Lindstrom wrote. "Bottom line, there was no discernible difference between the way the subjects' brains reacted to powerful brands and the way they reacted to religious icons and figures."

How Marketing Tricks You, and How to Beat It.

Of course, at the article shows Apple isn't alone in doing it. They are just one of the most successful at it. In fact, that very Martin Lindstrom has distilled it into nine steps of successful myth making for Ad Age magazine. Looking at the list, Apple succeeds with every single bullet point!

  • A Clear Vision: Summarized by Lindstrom's piece as such: "Man is the creator of change in this world. As such he should be above systems and structures, and not subordinate to them." If you're less a fan of haliography, then just say Steve Job's vision guides Apple in everything it does.
  • A Sense of Belonging: Partly cultivated (The MacWorld Expo, helping launch various Mac User Groups, holding events at Apple Stores [see more on the stores below]), and partly organic (think of all of the Mac specific websites and publications that exist), enhanced very much by the crisis of the 90s (see below), Mac users have come to see themselves as belonging to a movement greater than themselves.
  • An Enemy: Apple's most famous ad buy was the 1984 Superbowl commercial, where a rebel throws a hammer at the screen of a Big Brother figure. Then, the enemy was IBM. Since 1995, that enemy has been Microsoft whose Windows operating system is seen to have stolen the ease of use GUI concepts from Apple. That so-called theft been punished by an overwhelming marketshare in the computer desktop market. The rise of Windows nearly killed Apple, but it gave the Mac community its sense of embattlement and a enemy to hate.
  • Sensory Appeal: This can mean one of several things here. If you think of an Apple Store, the interior is instantly recognisable to the point of being recently parodied by The Simpsons. Though I can extended it to the products itself. Steve Jobs famously described the interface of Mac OS X as lickable. Funny as that is, the point is Apple pays extraordinary amounts of attention to how their products look. You will not mistake an iMac for any other computer.When most people think of MP3 players, they now imagine an iPod. Jonathan Ive can be described as the second most important person at Apple.
  • Storytelling: is the Old Testiment to the Apple story, but Apple is great at cultivating new myths for today's believer. Microsoft commentator Paul Thurrott expressed frustration over one particular story. The ad implies Microsoft is spending money on a marketing campaign rather than fixing its OS. Of course, that isn't true, given the release of "Service Pack 1" back in the spring, and continuing work on Service Pack 2. (And of course, bug fixes are released monthly from Microsoft.) And the real truth is that software development for everything but dead products (like WordPerfect) is continuous revision, refinement and repair, punctuated by release. The current version of OS X ("Leopard") is on its fifth revision since its release about 13 months ago. That version of OS X is itself the sixth since it was released in 2001. But, to most folks, Vista is irredeemably broken and is being abandoned in favor for Seven. Nobody describes Apple abandoning Leopard for Snow Leopard. In fact, both are moderate revisions on the current OS.

    Apologies. I allowed myself to get sidetracked on a specific detail rather than looking at the overall point. Apple is excellent at storytelling. It's the innovative company that revolutionize markets. It's a story that the company will repeat at every opportunity. (Along with the implication that all other companies are vultures that will steal its innovations.) And they use the standard PR game of granting access to friendly organizations and freezing out others. The judicious use of press releases (like "Thoughts on Music" or the "Open iPhone Letter") have soothed consumer anger. This allows Apple to do things like sell DRM protected media but be seen as being against DRM.
  • Grandeur: Apple holds press events for revisions to its product lines. They invite reporters to a hall, where Steve Jobs will appear on stage, recall for the audience how the history of Apple innovation, and then introduce with great fanfare the newest products. The largest such event is "Macworld", where the Steve Jobs keynote serves as the State of the Apple Address. The press eats this up. The community eats this up (see "Sense of Belonging"). Very few companies can get away with this, but Steve Jobs is a rock star in this arena.
  • Evangelism: Guy Kawasaski! However, much of that evangelism today comes from fellow Mac users. Success in this helps create an even stronger sense of belonging.
  • Symbols: From the Lindstrom's article: "Examine an iPod, and you'll have problems finding the Apple logo." I don't know what iPod he uses, but on every one I've seen, the logo is large, right on the back. That said, he is right enough that the iPod itself has become a symbol just as strong as the Apple logo.
  • Rituals: "Rituals build brands," he say. This one seems more likely to come from the grassroots than from above. I do not think "Box opening celebrations" came from above, but Apple does its best to make it feel special.

Originally posted on

Tags: apple
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.