Steve Jobs was a genius whose work fundamentally changed our relationship with technology. But the news this week that some anti-capitalist, anti-corporate demonstrators in the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement have been seen mourning Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs without a trace of irony underlines the astonishing achievements of both Jobs and the Apple brand.
Let’s not forget, this is a company that was discovered earlier this year to be covertly tracking the movements of every iPhone user on the planet; whose iPods fail so often that I am now on version 4, the first three having stopped working; who have shamelessly appropriated the images of important historical figures including Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jnr, Einstein and Mohammed Ali to sell products; and where working conditions in its Chinese factories are supposedly so poor that suicides apparently occur regularly.
So how did this big, and not always nice company manage to inspire such strong feelings of affection? Feelings noticeably absent in most attitudes to Microsoft, despite Bill Gates being the greatest philanthropist in history.
As Gideon Spanier wrote in the London Evening Standard last week, Apple was unique in its approach. It had its own advertising agency, its own design team and did its own PR, all overseen and signed off by Jobs. This meant that the philosophy, vision and attention to detail that drove the creation of new products also drove the aesthetics and the design of adverts, TV spots, packaging, website and stores. Or as Jim Prior of WPP says in the same article, “there was a complete marriage and unity between the product and the message.”
All brands aspire to connect with their audiences on an emotional level, though few achieve it.
But what Apple has achieved through truly integrating its strategy, vision, messages and communications is a unique relationship with its audiences that can inspire fanatical devotion. One that is so strong hundreds of millions of consumers are willing to overlook the facts, premium prices, and indeed rational thought and judgement, in order to think of Apple, a company that rivals Exxon to be the world’s biggest, as their super-cool best friend.