Social identity theory tells us that people will seek out formal or informal groups and join them (or leave them) to enhance their sense of identity (Tajfel,1974). This study examined literature focused on social identity theory, Apple’s marketing strategy, consumer advertising campaigns, a focus group of Apple consumers and interviews with Apple employees to understand social identity theory’s role in the development of “Apple People.”
Instead of merely presenting the features and benefits of its products, Apple’s advertisements often focused and continue to focus on creating an identity among its target audience and in turn drawing in people who either “fit the mold,” or would like to, indoctrinating them into the world of Apple People in the process. From the company’s 1980 “Benjamin Franklin” ad, which was used to stake Apple’s claim as a tool that the nation’s forward-thinking businessmen couldn’t do without, to the “Lemming” TV spot, which made only one mention of the actual product, the Macintosh Office, and focused more on creating a negative social identity for competitors, portraying non-Macintosh users as lemmings throwing themselves off of a cliff, Apple has been extremely successful in creating social identities, not only for itself, but competitors as well.
In the late 1990s, Apple combined its established ideological, anti-PC social identity with its new iMac design, which was offered in a variety of colors. Again, the “Chic. Not Geek.” iMac ad not only portrayed a positive image of Apple’s new product, it took a subtle jab at PCs by implying that they are “geeky,” an often undesirably social identity that the sleek new iMac gave potential consumers the opportunity to escape. Apple’s hip, anti-PC identity development extended into the 2000s with its “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” TV ad and colorful iPod ads, which used vibrant silhouettes and the company’s iconic white headphones to make it clear that Zunes and other competing devices were not part of this party.
In an interview for this study, Brendan Martin told us that in his time working as a resident specialist at an Apple retail store, he did, indeed, see individuals come together to form a collective identity of “Apple People.” Martin said that he witnessed an “eclectic group” of people come into his store to buy an Apple device because, in his words,” they just wanted it.” He also stated that some consumers wanted particular devices not only because of their capabilities, but because some they were made by Apple and extremely popular at that time. Likewise, thousands of miles away in Kabul, store manager Esmatullah Rahimi concurred that owning Apple products distinguished the company’s consumers from outsiders. He mentioned that his customers want Apple products (specifically the iPhone) because they see it in movies or on TV, and that for women, it’s a fashion accessory and holds a level of social status.
Martin and Rahimi’s responses were echoed in this study’s focus group, which showed that Apple’s identity-based marketing and advertising attracted new customers looking to become part of the company’s brand community. “Apple People” are not necessarily those who own the most devices; they are people who identify with the identity or identities behind the projects and those who share their desire to adopt them. Focus group data shows that merely owning an Apple device does not make someone an “Apple Person.” Apple created a brand and intertwined devices that bring people together into an informal (and in some cases formal) community in which individual members share similar identities. By becoming part of this community, members share a sense of self, a key component of social identity theory. Based on this study’s focus group data, these individuals were not defined by someone else; as consumers, they opted to join the group. There are two main motivations for customers to join a group, self- and social related (Sukoco & Wu, 2010). Self-related motivation refers to members’ private interest to experience enjoyment, gain personal knowledge regarding the use of a brand, and maintain their personal self-esteem and the social-related motivation refers to members’ interest to join group activities to have some affiliation with other members and acquire social status inside the community to maintain their collective self-esteem (Sukoco & Wu, 2010).
Although their advertising created the swell of camaraderie and drew consumers into the Apple group, the underlying truth is that Apple engineered quality products that also complement and complete each other (CRM 2009). Apple built a community of products. This sort of control over the entire user process, from hardware to software, strengthens customer loyalty (CRM 2009).
Some may wonder if Apple’s brand loyalty is pure luck but according to CRM Editors this loyalty is a part of a well-thought out plan to deliver strong products and to create an Apple culture. CRM suggests that this strategy includes: A store exclusively for Apple products; complete solutions – products that compliment each other; a hip brand (Are you Mac); a variety of product options to the Mac like the iPod or iPhone; Media Fodder like bloggers; educational sales that turn classrooms into showrooms; products that deliver through easy use; consistency by having the same basic architecture; new innovations by offering same architecture but different ways to enjoy the product; and attractiveness from packaging to aesthetic design to user-interface experience. This is the Apple community, a community to build on, a community to function within and a community that allows members to achieve social identity through self-awareness of membership in the community and the emotional and and evaluative significance of this membership (Sukoco & Wu, 2010).