The research used in this study consisted of an analysis of Apple print and TV advertisements, two interviews with Apple Store employees and a focus group consisting of Apple users.
Apple print and TV advertisements
Six ad groups were analyzed and evaluated within a social identity theory framework. The ads were chosen at strategic intervals from 1980 to the present day.
Early ads were directed at the “early adopter” niche. One early ad depicted Benjamin Franklin and the Apple computer, touted as a revolutionary product designed to make business practice less complicated and more effective. The ad capitalizes on imagery that suggests the computer’s visionary branding, implicitly aimed at those who wish to attain a similar self-image.
In 1984 Apple’s advertising changed from highlighting business benefits to education and home life. Apple continued to focus on early computer adopters but with a focus on the computer’s educational advantages. The advantages are particularly beneficial to children. In such a way Apple began targeting the first wave of “Apple Kids” who would eventually blossom into “Apple People.”
In 1998, Apple’s strategy shifted to an “us versus them” mentality, positioning Apple against the far more widely owned IBM personal computer. Apple was able to create a culture, which would soon become a social identity, of Windows refugees eager to latch onto something new, refreshing and cool.
At roughly the same time period, Apple rolled out a “Chic. Not Geek” campaign boasting the computer’s hip persona. By displaying a sleek, colorful Mac as the ad’s dominant feature, the ad implicitly suggests that PCs are “geeky.” By capturing and advertising a look that the company’s contemporary, forward-thinking audience could identify with, Apple began hatch the modern wave of “Apple People” who were able to express themselves through not only the company’s hip brand identity.
As Apple continued to grow in the first decade of the 21st century, the iPod became one of its trademark products. The iPod’s unique white ear-bud headphones quickly become a part of pop culture and a status symbol. A new series of ads showed the ear-buds’ wire superimposed against major metropolitan areas, beaches and other locations. This implicitly created an opportunity for people of all ages to identify with the product and each other by displaying various places that iPod might be used by “Apple People.”
Finally, a series of ads showed silhouetted iPod users against a background consisting of a bright primary color. These ads continued the company’s focus on hip, vibrant people, while leaving enough ambiguity as not to exclude people who may not “fit the mold” of an actual billboard model. Fun, colorful images accent iPod’s iconic white headphones, implying that another competing digital music player is not part of this desirable social circle.
Two interviews were conducted with Apple Store employees. One interview, lasting approximately 10 minutes, was conducted on July 20, 2012, with Brendan Martin, who was employed at an Apple Store in Whitehall, PA. between April 2010 and January 2011. The interviewer was Justin McAneny and the interview, consisting of 13 questions, was held online via Skype and recorded with screen capture software.
A second interview was held on July 22, 2012 with Esmatullah Rahimi, who has been employed at an Apple Store in Kabul, Afghanistan since August 2010. The interviewer was Will Everett and the interview, consisting of eight questions, was held via cell phone and transcribed from notes. The interview lasted for approximately 12 minutes.
Interview questions are listed in Appendix B.
A. Brendan Martin
In the first interview, Brendan Martin observes that during his employment, Apple Store employees were not used to help create buzz among potential consumers. They were instructed to downplay new product launches. Employees were also disallowed from providing upcoming product information to the media, but were instead instructed to direct media queries to the Apple website. This suggests that Apple may have been making itself a leader of the group of “Apple People” that it was creating. Later in the interview Martin states that he does not think that Apple intentionally created a SIT trait, but that it recognized that it had and then exploited it. By controlling all information and only providing it from one source Apple set itself up as a “leader” for its “people.”
Martin’s employment with the Apple Store coincided with the launch of the Verizon iPhone 4. He noted that the majority of customer queries related to the iPhone, with few questions pertaining to Apple’s line of computer and digital music products. This suggests a migration of “Apple People” from niche computers to communications products, from a retail vantage point. He notes that these consumers were an eclectic mix of personalities and professions that included business-people, students and senior citizens.
Many of these iPhone purchasers, Martin noted, were less concerned with the product’s features than the mere fact of owning it. He notes that in his experience, iPhone purchasers fall into two camps: those who are interested in the device and eager to use it and those who “just wanted the latest new thing.”
Training sessions were available for new iPhone purchasers, and Martin notes that this was an effective means of bringing “Apple People” together. Customers would not only learn from the training sessions but would interact directly, facilitating peer-to-peer learning support.
B. Esmatullah Rahimi
Esmatullah Rahimi worked as a military translator before becoming manager of the only Apple Store in Kabul. The “unofficial” Apple Store resells marked-up Apple products imported from Dubai.
He noted that in Kabul the PC still dominates the computer market, and that Mac sales are relatively slow because of their expense and lack of software support. The store sells roughly 12 iPhones a day and around six iPads daily. Both products are growing in popularity in Kabul and can be seen used in public places.
“Apple People” in Afghanistan are typically between the ages of 25-35, he noted, and tend to be employed with the American military or foreign contractors. He considers iPhones to be trendy because of their connection with wealthy expatriates working in the Afghan capital. iPhones and iPads are frequently seen in movies and on TV. He added that in the more conservative south Apple products are few, owing to the lower income level and relative instability of the area, but can be occasionally seen in public places.
Free iPhone applications tend to be preferred by Afghan consumers owing to the scarcity of credit cards and thus the inability of Afghans to purchase “apps” on iTunes. He notes that one popular free app is a street map of Kabul.
Rahimi, when asked about the future of Apple products in Kabul, reflected that Apple’s growth was contingent on the country’s security and the continuing availability of high-paying foreign jobs for Afghans. He feels that Apple’s success leans heavily on its trendy qualities, but that when this wears off people will continue to buy Apple products because of growing awareness of the brand’s quality.
One online focus group was conducted that lasted for approximately 25 minutes. The focus group was held at http://www.anymeeting.com. The group moderator was a graduate student in the Communication Management program at USC Annenberg.
A total of five participants—three male and two female—took part in the study. Participants ranged in age from 29 to 41 years and belonged to the middle class socioeconomic group. Participants were a mixture of working professionals and students, Caucasian, four lived in various locations throughout the United States, one lived in Canada. Participants were screened by occupation to include a mixture of those with anticipated device use and a lack of device use. All were users of the organization’s brand, devices, and culture.
The focus group discussion consisted of five main questions over three sections. The first section focused on demographics and device ownership history. An example question is “Which Apple device(s) do you own?” The second section focused on product purchases. An example question is “What accessories do you own (ear buds, cases, etc.) that are manufactured by Apple?” The third section focused on the organization. An example question is “Can you describe Apple in one word?” The moderator guide can be seen in Appendix A.
The topic of this focus group was to learn if users identified with Apple through the use of their devices and by those that they associate with. Goals included finding out if participants based their Apple purchases on social interaction (peer pressure), if advertisements pushed them toward their purchases, and if their purchases made them feel like they were included within a group.
Participants described a variety of career: two use Apple devices for their careers (creative positions), one works in the music business (often identified with Apple) but not in a capacity that is known for using Apple devices (i.e., non-creative). The other two had careers not typically associated with Apple device use (non-creative).
Between all five participants a variety of Apple devices have been purchased (an Apple G3 desktop computer through new MacBook Pro laptops were mentioned). iPods were the majority (4/5) of first Apple purchases with all participants having owned at least one.
Participants 1, 2, and 5 all stated that social interactions influenced their purchase decisions. This represented a majority (3/5), which was expected.
All participants could recall at least one Apple advertisement. A majority (3/5) recalled Apple’s Silhouette advertisements which Jenkins (2008) claimed were iconic, and helped create “Apple People” (Van Camp, 2004).
Participant 1 was the only participant that purchased an Apple branded accessory, yet later did not self-define as an “Apple Person.” Participant 3 owned no Apple accessories and did not self-define as an “Apple Person.”
The following are how participants described Apple when asked “Can you describe Apple in one word? Why/why not?”:
Participant 1 – Trendy; Participant 2 – Imaginative; Participant 3 – Irrelevant Response; Participant 4 – “Designy”;q Participant 5 – Simple.
Participant 1stated that no affect would be had if Apple went out of business or stopped supporting its products; participant 2 would be affected short term; participant 3 not at all; participants 4 and 5 would because it would affect their careers. This is all expected and logical as if the devices that are relied on no longer function than life would be affected.
Participant 1 did not self-define as an “Apple Person.” This was expected based on a lack of devices owned, and that participant 1’s career isn’t thought of as one that is creative, traditionally. Participant 2, however, answered yes, which is surprising, as participant 2’s career isn’t thought to be in a creative field, yet participant 2 is reliant on Apple products. Participant 3 answered no but works in a traditionally Apple-based field: Participant 3’s answer is surprising. Participants 4 and 5 both answered no, although they each own and rely on lots of Apple devices: This was surprising.
Participant 3, 4, and 5 could show that “Apple People” are not necessarily those that own the most devices but are based on what the devices are used for (professional vs. consumer). The data also show that just owning a device does not translate into being an
“Apple Person.” This may mean that being an “Apple Person” is a chosen SIT trait and can not be defined for someone by someone else; the consumer has to opt in unlike those SIT traits that are more concrete (i.e. race, religion, etc.).
Further research and questions could probe for other brand preferences, see if there are other definable brands, relatable products to see if a brand can be a SIT trait. Larger sample size with broader professions, hobbies, technological device uses would also be necessary.
Appendix A – Focus Group Questions
Apple Focus Group
1. What is your name, age, and what do you do for a living? Which Apple device(s) do you own? What was your first Apple purchase?
2. Why did you decide to purchase your Apple device(s)? Do you feel that social interactions affected your decision to purchase? (In what way?) Do any Apple advertisements come to mind? If so, which ones?
3. What accessories do you own (ear buds, cases, etc.,) that are manufactured by Apple? Why did you purchase Apple accessories? What do you think when you see others with the same accessories?
4. Can you describe Apple in one word? Use follow-up questions to determine what’s behind these adjectives: functionality, design, ease of use, price, etc.
5. If Apple went out of business tomorrow and stopped making and supporting its line of products, what would change in your life?
6. Would you describe yourself as an “Apple person?” Why/not?
Appendix B – Live Interview Questions
Interview with Brendan Martin
1. Please introduce yourself and tell us when you started working at Apple and where the store was located.
2. What did you do at that store?
3. While you were there, what products were launched?
4. What do you remember most about the Verizon iPhone launch?
5. What sort of directions did you receive from corporate about how to create a buzz for this launch?
6. So they didn’t use their employees to create a buzz as such?
7. What kind of questions did people ask about the iPhone?
8. Could you describe the type of person who came in looking for the iPhone?
9. Did it seem the customers were all united in that they wanted their iPhones?
10. What was the difference between former Apple owners and people who came in because they saw the iPhone on TV?
11. Do you think that was one of Apple’s goals, to bring these people together?
12. Did you find that people bought after-products more than you expected (headphones, etc.)?
13. Those are all of my questions. Is there anything I missed as an Apple outsider?
Interview with Esmatullah Rahimi
1. Kabul seems like an unusual place for an Apple Store. How did that happen?
2. How well has the store been received, and what are people buying?
3. What kind of Afghans use Apple products? What defines Apple People here?
4. Why is that?
5. Is there anything else about Apple products that draws people in?
6. Do people know about Steve Jobs over here?
7. What kind of apps are popular for the iPhone?
8. Where do you see Apple going in the next 10 years here in Kabul?