With the announcement of the new Apple Watch and the likely extensive marketing campaign that will follow, it’s time to look at just how Apple mastered the art of effective marketing with the help of six well-known psychological persuasion tactics.
Apple’s advertising campaigns have always been an inspiration for many, attracting wide-spread attention around the world and winning numerous industry awards. The technology company’s advertising has often been hailed as some of the most inventive and ground-breaking work ever made, regularly setting new standards, not just for technology advertising, but for advertising as a whole.
Under the lead of the late Steve Jobs, a marketing guy himself, and in collaboration with advertising agency TBWA\Media Arts Lab spanning over three decades, Apple built its brand on the notion of ‘otherness’ and being the ‘cool alternative’ to the ‘dull’ status quo within the technology industry.
This strategy has worked remarkably well for Apple. The unique aspect of the company’s advertising, and marketing in general, has been its ability to generate a large group of passionate brand advocates; a phenomenon rarely enjoyed by other commercial companies.
While it can be argued that the company’s continued growth has made it increasingly hard, if not impossible, for Apple to maintain its positioning as the dark horse and underdog in the eyes of the modern consumers, it is interesting to note that the underlying psychological influencing techniques that got Apple where they are now, are exactly the same to those of any other company.
Cialdini’s Six Principles of Psychological Influence
Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book ‘Influence – the Psychology of Persuasion’ is every marketer’s and salesperson’s bible. The book is a result of Cialdini’s extensive research on ‘compliance professionals’ and their methods of influencing people to comply with their requests.
The methods discovered by Cialdini during his research in the ‘80s are distilled into six main psychological influence principles, which play on people’s in-built, almost automatic, response mechanisms to certain outside stimuli.
These response mechanisms, or mental triggers, act as shortcuts for most people, who often do not have the time to analyse each and every decision extensively. People who are aware of these triggers can activate them and consequently influence others, often without the other person even realising this.
It is hardly surprising that these principles are not anything new to companies. In fact, major organisations have utilised academically-trained psychologists in marketing and advertising for over 100 years.
This article demonstrates how Apple’s marketing and advertising campaigns have successfully relied on the same established six principles of psychological influence as other marketing professionals over the course of history.
Savvy salespeople know that the fear of loss is a more significant motivator for people than the opportunity for gain. People do not want to lose out on deals that may not be there tomorrow, making them immensely effective as a persuasion tactic.
Everyone has probably encountered an eager sales representative warning you that the 20 % discount on the TV you are eyeing in the store is ending today or that there is only one TV left in stock. This kind of information would probably make you worried that you could miss out on a great deal and more inclined to purchase the TV on the spot without too much thinking.
The reason this technique works is that most of us are programmed into thinking that anything with a limited supply must be more valuable than a product that has an endless supply and is freely available. It creates a sense of urgency and evokes people to act immediately, which is why it is so popular as a marketing and sales technique.
Scarcity in Apple’s Marketing
The principle of scarcity plays an interesting part in Apple’s marketing campaigns. As products with limited availability are often perceived as being of higher value than those that are easily available, Apple uses this to its advantage through its promotional messaging.
Product launch campaigns, such as those of the new iPhones or iPads, also utilise the principle of scarcity by having the Apple stores stock only a limited number of the new product on the day of the product launch. This is done in order to create long queues and, consequently, free publicity. And they work like a charm. Or how does 775 people waiting in line in New York to get their hands on the iPhone 5 sound?
2. COMMITMENT AND CONSISTENCY
Commitment and consistency are deeply rooted in our desire to appear as rational and steady individuals in the eyes of others. Fickle people, who change their minds often, are frequently perceived as mentally unstable, but people who make a decision and stick to it earn a reputation of being reliable and intelligent.
Furthermore, we also want to feel internally consistent. We aim to avoid a state that is called ‘cognitive dissonance’. This state occurs when our pre-existing beliefs, views or a piece of new information contradicts our other beliefs and makes our internal belief system feel inconsistent. As a result, we aim to reduce the feeling of inconsistency by either changing our internal beliefs to better accommodate the new information, or by just plainly ignoring the disrupting piece of information.
The principles of commitment and consistency work well by tapping into this tendency. For example, a salesperson could introduce a small and seemingly trivial request at first, such as simply asking for your email address, slowly setting you on a course to change your internal belief system and rendering you committed to a bigger request, such as signing up for a product demo.
It is also easier to make a commitment and just stick to it, as we often make our future decisions based on past decisions. Indeed, if we feel committed to something, such as, say, a particular brand, we are more likely to go through with all consequent related choices in order to make it easier for ourselves, but also to appear consistent and feel consistent internally.
Commitment and Consistency in Apple’s Marketing
Apple’s use of the commitment and consistency principle is evident in their strict branding practices. Every detail from product and packaging design to advertising and in-store experience has been carefully crafted to deliver the same sleek Apple experience for anyone coming into contact with Apple.
Apple’s brand is intended to convey an air of sophistication and, at least until recently, superior difference. An operation performed so well that Apple now boasts one of the most committed brand advocates of any company.
What has happened, is that Apple’s most committed brand advocates have internalised the Apple values and made them part of their own internal belief system. The values conveyed by Apple are so strong that, at least in the past, people who use Apple products believe to have a bit of Apple rubbed off on them.
Suddenly switching to a PC or an Android phone would be inconceivable for a committed Apple fan, as Apple’s brand values are so ingrained in the internal belief system. Adopting a non-Apple product would cause internal cognitive inconsistency and potentially make a previously vocal Apple advocate appear flaky and unreliable in the eyes of others.
Humans are social creatures and smooth social interaction necessitates a few unwritten rules that keep everyday interactions between people running conflict-free.
One of these is the principle of reciprocity, which means that you tend to return favours and treat people the same way you are being treated. Many salespeople rely on this inherent mechanism by first offering you something for free before presenting you with their real request. In doing so, you are more inclined to agree to their final request as you are uncomfortable with being left feeling indebted to the person doing you a favour.
Several companies offer free gifts for their prospective and current customers to make them more committed to that particular company. It can even be argued that every modern marketer’s darling, content marketing, plays on this principle as well by offering lots of valuable content for free before asking for anything in return.
Reciprocity in Apple’s Marketing
Admittedly, Apple is not known for employing reciprocity extensively in their marketing, choosing to rely on other persuasion tactics first. There have been a few attempts at this though from Apple’s side, with the most infamous campaign being the recent iTunes and U2 collaboration.
As a gift to iTunes users, Apple distributed U2’s album to its user base of over 500 million users for free. This did not fare too well and the well-meant intention of giving something away for free to loyal customers was overshadowed by the fact that Apple forced the gift onto the users instead of offering it as an optional download. Needless to say the campaign backfired, causing negative publicity for both Apple and U2.
Had the execution of this technique been realised in a less coercive way, Apple and iTunes could have experienced increased user loyalty as a result.
We tend to trust the advice of authority figures when making complicated decisions. It makes the analysis of complex situations faster for us, more energy-efficient for our minds and many think that the decision is less likely going to be wrong if following the advice of an authority figure.
Marketers use these beliefs constantly in advertising, throwing dentists, doctors and chefs into their advertisements or, at the very least, actors posing as dentists, doctors and chefs. These authority figures’ credibility rubs off on the product they are endorsing, thus making the promoted product seem more credible and appealing in the process.
People are also more trusting of, and susceptible to, messages coming from authority figures or people dressed as authority figures. Just ask Frank Abagnale, who rather successfully impersonated an airline pilot, lawyer and a doctor in the ‘60s.
Authority in Apple’s Marketing
Perhaps the best example of Apple’s use of the authority principle are the Apple Geniuses. Apple Geniuses are specifically trained and certified Apple store employees, who assist consumers with any technical issues related to Apple products.
The title itself, ‘Apple Genius’, conveys a strong sense of authority to an outsider in two ways; by communicating the person’s unparalleled expertise in matters concerning Apple products and also insinuating that the mental powers of these individuals would supersede those of the average Joe. The overall goal is for you to trust and value the opinion of an Apple Genius more than that of a generic computer shop employee.
5. SOCIAL PROOF
The principle of social proof is yet another way for people to make decisions quicker and with less mental effort involved.
We are especially inclined to use social proof as decision-making method when we are feeling insecure over the best course of action and need guidance from an outside source. Social proof has been utilised by a wide range of persuasion professionals for as long as the practice has been around.
For instance, a piece of marketing collateral can feature a number of testimonials from people similar to the recipient in an effort to reassure them that other people found the offered product a splendid purchase and that there is no cause for concern. Indeed, the more similar the person is to us, the more prone we are to trust that person’s opinion.
Humans also instinctively think that a group of people cannot be wrong and are more inclined to trust the opinion of a group of people than of a single person. This tendency can go as far as thinking that the bigger the group, the more correct their opinion must be.
Ever noticed how buskers always put a bit of their own change in their hat prior to beginning their set, or how sitcoms feature canned laughter? It’s to make you think other people like them.
Social Proof in Apple’s Marketing
Utilising social proof is a big part of Apple’s marketing strategy. From the famous Mac vs. PC advertisements to the long queues right before new product launches, other people’s high (artificial or real) opinion on Apple products has worked well for the company.
Back when iPhones started to dominate the streets in the late ‘00s, you could see them everywhere. Similar to the loyal brand advocates swearing by Apple products and queuing for new products, they worked as social proof for non-Apple users that there must have been something magical to the products. Surely a massive group of people could not be wrong?
Apple is also taking advantage of the power of social proof by letting product owners leave testimonials on Apple products on the company’s online store and showing what other customers have bought in addition to the product you are viewing.
With all other things being equal, would you be more likely to buy a new website from a person you like or from a person you feel indifferent towards? It is pretty obvious that the way we feel about a person doing the persuasion affects the degree to which we are inclined to go along with their request.
The feeling of liking has an immense effect on the success rate of persuasive communication. So much so, that the persuasion principle of liking is perhaps the most used tactic in any persuasive communication.
Liking is comprised of several parts, all which have an effect on the persuader’s degree of liking. Physical attractiveness, similarity, compliments, contact and cooperation as well as conditioning and association all play a role in how much we are going to like the person and, subsequently, how persuasive they are.
Most of us have met at least one of those well-groomed sales representatives who just happens to love the same brand of clothes as we do and who gets very excited because “that jacket goes so well with your beautiful green/blue/brown eyes.”
We will explore some of the core components of the liking principle in more detail in the following sections.
According to Cialdini, attractive individuals enjoy the benefits of a phenomenon called the ‘Halo effect’, where other people link characteristics such as kindness, talent, honesty and intelligence to this person purely due to their physical beauty. This is largely an unconscious process and we are not aware when producing these connections, which makes this a powerful persuasion tactic.
Physical Attractiveness in Apple’s Marketing
As using attractive people in advertising is more a rule than an exception, it comes to no surprise that also Apple utilises attractive people in its advertisements.
The use of physical attractiveness reaches to other areas of the company’s communication as well. It can be argued that Apple’s product, website, packaging and store designs all contribute to the persuasiveness of Apple’s marketing message by lending more credibility to the persuasion efforts. Surely you would be more convinced of a product’s excellence if it looked like a piece of art rather than a heap of garbage?
Apple is notorious for their attention to the tiniest of details and ensuring that the sleek and aesthetically-beautiful Apple experience is communicated through at every consumer touch point. So well has this concentration on appearance worked for Apple that there are, for example, a plethora of Apple product unboxing videos on YouTube for those who salivate over attractive packaging.
People are more pre-disposed to trust and like a person who is perceived as similar to them. The feeling of similarity can arise, for instance, from shared interests, personality, background, opinions and so forth, and it is a strong contributor to how inclined we are to like and be persuaded by someone.
Similarity in Apple’s Marketing
The persuasion principle of similarity has perhaps been the biggest contributor to Apple’s marketing success in the past. Starting all the way in 1984 with the much-applauded Orwell-esque Macintosh Super Bowl advertisement, and culminating in the famous ‘Think Different’ campaign that launched in 1997, Apple has always positioned its brand strongly as the underdog, the supporter of originality and combater of conformity.
Rather than competing on technical specifications with PCs, Apple strove to make Macs a lifestyle choice instead. The company wanted to establish an almost black-and-white setting of PCs versus Macs, which proved to be so successful for the company that this mindset is still evident in people’s thinking, although the campaign has not run since 2009.
Creatives, such as designers and artists, most likely appreciated and identified with Apple’s ‘Think Different’ advertisements from 1997 that featured prominent celebrities from the past, such as Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart and Pablo Picasso. The notion of similarity was played with strongly in this branding campaign.
Apple took it even further in its ‘Get a Mac’ campaigns that started in 2006. The famous advertisements showed a laidback and casual actor Justin Long embodying the essence of Macs and interacting with his seeming opposite, the PC, who was portrayed by author John Hodgman.
This human embodiment of a PC was portrayed as dull, stiff and pestered with malfunctions, whereas the Mac was shown as easygoing, simple and friendly. The play on the principle of similarity could have not been any more obvious, with Apple’s intention being that viewers would identify with the casual charm of the Mac and stay away from the seemingly complex bundle of problems that was the PC.
It has been reported that these particular advertisements were so effective that sales soared after the launch of the campaign. Clearly Apple had finally perfected the art of appealing to consumers’ sense of similarity and was able to reap the rewards.
Macs are still very much the computer of choice for creatives, and Apple knows this. When navigating to the Mac section of the company’s online store, the pages feature several pieces of original artwork on the computer displays, citing the artists’ names. The recommended applications showcased on the page are also heavily geared towards creative professionals, which contributes to the image that Macs are the optimal computers for anyone working in the creative industry.
Conditioning and Association
The use of conditioning and association persuasion principles in promotional communication is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but hey they work. The widespread popularity of this persuasion technique is based on the fact that people have a stronger preference for things and ideas that are connected to things that they already like.
In other words, people tend to associate one person’s or item’s positive qualities with a product that appears in the same context. The positive image of one thing practically rubs off on to the other.
This is yet another reason why classic forms of advertising employ attractive models in their advertisements and why brands are so keen to invest in sponsorship or engaging in product placement. The connection between the brand or a product and the liked object or person does not even have to be logical. The only thing that matters in this instance is that the connection is a positive one.
Conditioning and Association in Apple’s Marketing
Apple has spent a lot of time and effort in aligning its brand and products with just the right objects. Although changing, Apple is still regarded as the hipper alternative to the ‘stiff’ technology companies, and this is a direct result of clever choices in celebrity endorsements, advertisement messages and product placements.
The most obvious example of the principles of conditioning and association in play was Apple’s Mac vs. PC advertisements. In this case, Apple did not bother with the traditional approach of celebrities endorsing or presenting the promoted product, but combined these into one, effectively making the endorser the endorsed.
This is not often witnessed in advertising, but perhaps the unconventional take on this classic persuasion technique made this particular advertising campaign one of the more successful ones for Apple.
Apple’s ‘Think Different’ branding campaigns also sought to align the Apple brand with the original and creative image of certain celebrities. This campaign was actually the first step in a series of many in Apple’s journey to differentiate the company from Microsoft in a very blatant way.
When it comes to building the company image with the help of celebrity endorsements, big stars, such as Samuel L. Jackson, Zoey Deschanel and Oprah Winfrey have all lent their star power to Apple. In addition, Apple invests heavily on TV show and film product placements. The company has had many Apple products appear on screen alongside the main stars in TV shows and films such as Sex and the City, The Office and Mission: Impossible, just to name a few. In fact, Apple was the leader in the number of product placements in 2014.
Despite the heavy young-skew in Apple’s product placements and celebrity endorsements, it is interesting to note, however, that over 46 % of Apple’s user base is currently 55 years of age or older. Time will tell how Apple will respond to these figures in its promotional activities.
Looking at all of the above techniques, it becomes clear that although Apple positions itself as being different to mainstream, the persuasion techniques it uses in its promotional messaging are not dissimilar to those of every other informed company’s marketing department’s.
It will be fascinating to see how the company will reform its marketing efforts while still tapping into those six principles of influence. Or perhaps it will dive deep into the intriguing world of neuromarketing? But that’s another post altogether.