Conversations with Apple’s brand

According to Folkore, in 1981 Apple took out a two page ad in Scientific American which explained that whereas humans cannot run as fast as other animals, a human on a bicycle is the fastest species on earth.

Jobs had made the observation that a computer was “a bicycle for the mind” earlier, in 1980, at a time when the decision to purchase a computer was driven by an intellectual curiosity and justified as an improvement or assistant to the intellect. It was to make the lighten the labors of our intellect.

Apple brand at the time as an appeal to the intellect via a humanistic argument. A more emotive positioning of a tool, but a tool nonetheless. This positioning evolved throughout the 80s and 90s into an “intersection of technology and the liberal arts.”

We can see how the conversation with the potential buyer was along the lines of appealing to the intellect while offering a humanist sweetener. Humanizing the product allowed it to be accepted into a world that feared the complexity and awkwardness of such a machine.

During the 2000s, with the ascent of iPod, the conversation shifted to prioritizing  the emotions more than the intellect. The products had to appeal to those who wished to express and enjoy products of emotional value. Products like music and videos and the output of the arts rather than the sciences. The brand became emotional rather than intellectual. It created an aesthetic, and become culturally iconic.

During the 2010s, with the ascent of iPhone and the emergence of the Watch, the brand speaks a language of instinct, leaving intellect and emotion as secondary or tertiary voices. Instinct is visceral, lust-inducing. It seems to short-circuit any of the rational. Non-rationalism does not mean irrational. It just skips right over the head and heart and hits the gut.

One could argue that during these three decades, the organs the brand was engaging in conversation shifted from the mind to the heart and then to the glands. Those glands which release hormones and are directed by non-rational neurons. The evidence of the conversation would be in resulting products causing pupils to dilate, breaths to be quickly drawn and skin temperatures to rise.

The brand therefore has managed to move from a rational, to a neurological, to an endocrine response.

The curious thing is that during these shifts, Apple’s entry into new biological spheres of influence has been largely unchallenged. I suspect this is because emotional or instinctive products are appealing due to their lack of rationalized value. In other words, what makes a product hormonally appealing is a lack of intellectual appeal[1]. Apple can enter into the world of lustful appeal while lustful brands can’t enter into functional appeal.

This is a classic asymmetry which perhaps no other brand can pull off.[2]

  1. and vice-versa in many cases []
  2. The reason is complicated but stems from the firm having been built to execute nothing but home runs. By shunning portfolio theory, Apple can wander into new categories far from its biological home grounds. []
  • Apple has, IMO, always appealed to two fundamental human needs, which have been a part of their appeal in the “eras” you define in your post, those being:
    – Aspiration, in other words, who do we want to be, or see ourselves as being, and
    – Differentiation, how do we see ourselves as unique from others
    Both of these needs can be activated and spoken to at the levels you describe.

  • Justin Pak

    Great point made by Scott Galloway as well.

    • Thanks Justin, I love his presentation and points, have watched it a couple of times!

    • DesDizzy

      Thanks for the link very informative humourus perceptive presentation

  • claimchowder

    I’m pretty sure they never claimed the bicycle made humans the fastest animal on earth, but the most energy-efficient. Just FYI.

    • That was my recollection as well. That it was discussed in calories per mile or something like that and how a bicycle improved efficiency by an order of magnitude. It allowed you to get more done with less.

  • Ed C.

    I think we’re at risk of over-thinking this:

    Tim Cook wants Apple to “make the world’s best products that enrich people’s lives”

    (consider: this might be a bigger vision than even Steve Jobs had)

    An Apple Watch & Apple Car could conceivably give us more time and reduce “friction” in our lives, which is consistent with Tim Cook’s product mantra.

    At their core, we know Apple is a product company.

    Thus, I think the marketing angle is ever-evolving, appealing to the part of the human anatomy that most conveniently helps them position & sell their product. For example, Apple Watch marketing may be marketed very differently from a theoretical Apple Car which is different from marketing a 5k iMac.

    But the reason for why a product exists would be fundamentally the same.

  • Bruce_Mc

    A good Swiss watch stopped making intellectual sense decades ago. They have shifted to what you call a non rational, endocrine response.

    I suggest that “non rational” and “mind to heart to glands” are not good descriptions of what you are talking about. Moving from the front of the brain to the base of the brain seems more accurate to me.

    The base of the brain has it’s own rationality. People die, but their genetic material has the potential to live on. The base of the brain is programmed to make sure that happens. Tapping into that programming is the job of any good brand manager.

    • handleym

      The line of thought in this post is predicated, I assume, on the way the aWatch is being advertised. The implication is that the advertising for the aWatch suggests the future direction for Apple. I think this is incorrect.

      I’d say the advertising for aWatch is based on the idea that you cannot introduce a completely new product to the MASS MARKET untethered from existing expectations and knowledge. You sell the iPhone in 2007 as a better cell phone + iPod; you don’t sell it as a pocket computer because the mass market has no idea what to do with a pocket computer and why that’s valuable. Likewise you sell the wrist computer as a better watch because the mass market understand the value/point of watches, and you talk up the luxury stuff because that’s how you can more or less justify the cost (which actually goes into electronics, SW R&D, etc); and because that’s the way watches are sold.

      Apple really has no choice in this matter. The alternative entry point (a better health tracker) is minuscule; that doesn’t get you any more traction than the argument that you’re selling a better smartwatch. If you want the mass market, you don’t get there by telling them you’re selling them a doodad from the future that they have no expectation that they need.

      My GUESS is that in three or four years, once the value proposition of smartwatches is clear, the marketing will subtly pivot. Sure they’ll keep the materials/manufacturing porn because we all do like having nice things; but there’ll be more emphasis in the ads and the launches about new things the device can do, and less about how celebrities use it.

      We may also see the launch of a second brand, something like Apple Band rather than Apple Watch, where Apple no longer has to slave itself to the dictates and customs of the watch fashion market and can release a product that is either cheaper or more capable; a product that CAN sell itself as the best wearable computer and have the mass market want to buy that, rather than a product that has to disguise itself as something from two hundred years ago. Once you know the value of a wrist computer, and don’t care that it’s not a watch, could you make it still comfortable but twice as wide (larger viewing area?) Or with more sensors packed in the strap (meaning you’d have to give up most of the fancy milanese band type straps)? Or with one on each wrist (again twice as much viewable area, and sensible co-ordination between the two wrists and the phone as to what is used for what purpose)?

  • AJL

    The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.

    Carl Jung

  • stefnagel

    Maybe pre-rational? rather than non-rational? Kids like shiny things right from the start.

  • Tony L’Ombroso

    When I first heard about that observation by Jobs, it struck me as a truly beautifully concise way to describe what computing could do for humanity.

    Nowadays, any time someone brings that up, what pops to my mind is that for most people, computing is not really a bycicle anymore – rather, it is a * cyclette * for the mind.

    The digital tools shifted from being a pure force multiplier for the mental efforts devoted to expand our culture and craftsmanship, to a drain of mental energy devoted to just sit in place and reach nothing.

    • You are pining for the days when computers were intellectual tools and suggesting that non-intellectual pursuits are necessarily wasteful. You could not be more wrong. The intellect is a tiny portion of our being.

      • stefnagel

        Spot on, Horace. I worked in publishing for young adults. At conferences we would watch cheesy, sloganed teeshirt mop up the money, while we, who did the hard work of creating book content, watched kids walk on by. I used to whine about our letting the teeshirt guys grab the money; it was our work the conference was based on. We didn’t do teeshirts because we were simply snotty about non-intellectual, extrinsic stuff.

        Having said that, Jobsian “dents in the universe” to date involve the discovery and creation of new languages and new media: writing, alphabet, numbers, music, code, type, books, radio, imaging, TV, transistors, chemistry, and bits. A current PRI interview describes what a Jobsian dent looks like. Well worth a listen. Search “manutius grolier steve jobs.” Eyes on the prize.

      • Tony L’Ombroso

        Horace, it’s just that when I observe people staying glued to their candy crushes or social feeds for the whole duration of a road trip thru landscapes that they never saw before and probably will never see again… the image of a multiplier of intellectual and emotional energy is not what pops to my mind.

        I realize this has almost nothing to do with the topic of your post – and I completely agree with your comment about intellect.

        It was just my reaction to that old quote about how remarkable a tool the computer is.

        Btw, the bycicle quote wasn’t about speed. It was about efficency in lomotion – ie, not about humans becoming the fastest species on earth when riding a bycicle, rather about becoming the species that could travel farther expending a given amount of energy.

        As computing advances, the efficiency keeps growing exponentially.
        In few hours we can calculate, design, build things that would’ve taken months without digital tools.

        But digital tools also enable extremely pervasive multitasking and defocusing.
        Yeah you can prototype a part in one work day. And you can spend another full day to scrape just half a hour of uninterrupted “hic et nunc” for yourself. This may be enriching at times, but it’s also often limiting.

        And what this impacts more, is indeed the non intellectual portion of our being.

      • Your comments suggest that people who fly should spend all their time looking out of the airplane’s windows. The wonders of flying at 10km altitude over a never-the-same landscape or cloudscape are incredible. As close to the view from space as possible. How could they sleep, read the newspaper?
        And yet they do.

  • Erik

    Warning: the following comment can be perceived as in poor taste. I apologize to whomever feels offended.

    In the context of these words it appears somewhat ironic that Steve Jobs reportedly suffered from a pancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasm.

  • Raphael Tongoona

    You guys overthink things. Apple makes fancy stuff for Yuppies – period!

    • Jeff g

      A while back I was at the car wash and as the guys were cleaning the windows and vacuuming my car and a few others I announced, “Excuse me, I’m taking a poll… How many of you have an Apple device right now?”

      It was a 50% Yes result out of 6 people. These guys are definitely not Yuppies (does anyone use that term any more?). Also, I’m 50 so I’m definitely not ‘Young’ (the Y of yuppy) and I have all kinds of Apple devices. It’s true that Apple has 700 Million+ Of the wealthiest customers on Earth, but to say they are all yuppies is absolutely an uninformed distortion of the facts.

  • D D

    I agree you guys are overthinking. Look at it this way. In photography, the best way to get immediately better is to never show your crappy pictures. In tech, I would suggest that the same principle applies. I’m sure Apple makes a lot of crap. They just do their best to make sure it never sees the light of day. Jobs always said that he was most proud of the things they didn’t make. And, of course, Jobs (and Sir Jony) had/have impeccable taste…

  • stefnagel

    Let’s keep the watch in perspective: the “dents in the universe” to date involve the discovery and creation of new languages and communication tools: writing, alphabet, numbers, music, code, type, books, radio, imaging, TV, transistors, chemistry, and biochemistry, digital media. But not $10K shiny objects. A PRI interview describes what a Jobsian dent looks like. Well worth a listen. Search “manutius grolier steve jobs.”


    With lot of new feature Apple brand always give us more latest technological news of us. So i think it should be better for us to use the apple products.