Article originally for The Warehouse Magazine. To be published soon.
Today, anybody that is anybody recognizes the Apple brand. But explaining what makes it so special and whimsical to someone that isn’t an owner of a product it’s like trying to explain an Acid trip in all its mind-bending detail to a person who’s only ever drank beer: they will hear the words you are saying, perhaps conjure images of what you describe, but they’ll never know what you felt. Apple isn’t the Acid – it is the feeling you are left with when you’ve come down, when all the hallucinations are gone but your entire world and consciousness remain forever altered.
The company has been in perpetual motion since its humble beginnings in 1976, when a young Steve Jobs – still in the throes of the Acid Counter-culture – his friend, Steve Wozniak and a significantly older business partner, Ronald Wayne, founded the company. Over the years, Apple has become widely recognized all over the world for virtually everything it does: from its technological milestones to its colourful past and present history, including legal battles involving anything from patent-laws to labour rights, the company essentially doesn’t fart without causing hurricanes.
Which isn’t always bad. Currently it is one of the wealthiest publicly traded corporations in the world, valuing at about 500 billion USD; and it employs nearly 73,000 fulltime and 3,300 “fulltime equivalent” temporary employees in 390 stores in 14 countries. Put simply, the company is everywhere…including in the hearts and minds of those it conquers.
Apple seems to be one of the only product-brands out there that gathers in congregation as excited, wild and loyal a crowd as rock-concerts, political protests or perhaps religious events do. The word “cult” can almost be heard in the same breath as “Apple” or “Mac”. The customer-fans are notorious for screeching like crazed speed freaks at a thrash-metal concert in the midst of line-ups that have reportedly extended up to 10 city-blocks in anticipation of the new store-opening, despite being structurally identical to every other one and often not even offering special deals.
But why? What makes it so special? And why do fans hold Steve Jobs – a mere innovator – in an almost religious light, weeping for the death of a supposed “Saviour”?
Many people believe that it was solely Steve Jobs that revived and rejuvenated Apple when he was rehired in 1996, after 10 or so years pursuing a “solo career” at Next. By 1998, under his tutelage, the company had managed to turn from the brink of bankruptcy to profitability. Upon his return, the iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone and iPad were introduced, as well as the Apple Retail Stores, the iTunes Stores and the App Stores.
One of the theories relies on Jobs’ ability to rally people behind him as he pursues practically any idea he can conjure, no matter how incredibly wild and farfetched. His almost trademark way of discourse – a mixture of pure hyperbole, keen marketing and sheer charisma – is what has been described among some circles as a Reality Distortion Field.
But what the consensus is among practically anyone with an opinion, whether critical of the brand or hopelessly addicted to it, is that the company’s forte, as it were, is its marketing: its bloodline into society, which regularly supplements the senses through simple yet hypnotizing commercials. Its commitment to the perfect commercial, in fact, is readily evidenced by the many legal battles or settlements it’s involved itself in over the years.
The 1984-inspired commercial alone, featured in that same year’s Superbowl third quarter telecast and never again, is one of the most successful stories in the marketing world. It is widely lauded and regarded as a masterpiece among the big-shots in the business. It was also considered a copyright infringement by Orwell’s Estate, which consequently sent Apple a cease-and-desist letter in April that same year.
Nevertheless, the 80s and 90s were glorious years that revived the brand. A top marketing executive from Pepsi had come aboard, raising the marketing budget from 15 to 100 million USD as he “marketed Apple like crazy,” according to an article on Wired Magazine. Of course this was peanuts compared to the 100 million Jobs had used for iMac marketing alone.
Apple is simply the brand. It launches musicians into superstardom; it hooks its customers almost faster than drugs; it reinvents entire industries. The Apple-holic could care less if a new product is out, just like a girl at a club on Saturday-night could care less what song is playing: they both just want to dance.
The brand is why people like Gary Allen, 56, and his son Devin, 16, make trips from California to Tokyo just to be the first in line for the new store opening, damn the pouring rain, and then fly back the next day with no new finds; why 2000 others have reportedly waited for more than 28 hours in the same stark conditions for the same cheap thrills. Or why an Apple fan shows the same kind of brain stimulation talking about Apple as religious people do when they speak of religion or drug-addicts do when doing cocaine.
So what makes Apple so special? Why are so many people hooked? We may never know with certainty. The theories are rampant. Perhaps there are some things – like Acid, for instance – you just have to try for yourself to really know.