Originally featured on the Huffington Post.
At a recent high school reunion in Orange County, we went out shopping. Because honestly, in Orange County, what’s a group of friends to do after 6 p.m.? After passing both the Apple and Microsoft Store my annoyingly Apple-only friend stated, “The employees in the Apple stores all look like hip nerds and the employees in the Miscrosoft stores all look like boring geeks. That really shows you something.”
My other friends and I looked at each other and shook our heads, because the employees in the two stores looked exactly the same: Microsoft is, after all, just trying to copy the Apple image.
If you’ve ever wondered how the “Apple is cool” narrative persists so strongly in our society, it’s because Apple users’ visions of reality have become totally warped — they simply see everything that Apple does as cool and everything else as uncool.
Apple users have literally and figuratively bought into Apple’s story of rebellious coolness. Why do Apple users buy into this narrative so much? Quite possibly, just because they want to.
Recently, consumer psychologist Liad Weiss, of the Columbia Business School, found thatwhen people own a product with a certain identity (e.g. “it’s cool”), people feel like they are part of the identity (e.g. “I am cool.”). This implies that the more Apple users view Apple as cool, the more cool they will feel.
Praising one’s products is a sneaky way to praise oneself. It’s often hard for people to directly praise themselves, as it violates humbleness norms that even the most self-assured of us follow to some degree. Accordingly, Apple users may seize upon the opportunity to get a little self-boost by boosting Apple.
When viewing the Microsoft store, Apple-only users, like my friend, may focus on the one unhip Microsoft employee and the clunkiest desktop. They end up engaging in a motivated confirmation bias so they can maintain their desired worldview in which Mac is cool and PC is that stuffy loser from those old PC v. Mac commercials.
Yet, that’s not the whole story of the Apple marketing machine.
Apple users want not only to view Apple as cool, but also to remind the world they are part of the coolness. Apple users accordingly publically demonstrate their love. Apple even provides bumper stickers with many of their products to encourage this. But Apple consumers also pay for items to highlight their Appleness, such as purchasing the gaudy yet extremely popular iPhone case that protects the entire phone while still leaving space for the Apple logo. To truly complete the narrative that one is an authentic Apple user and thus deserving of the Apple identity, one must not only own and display Apple products, but also go a step further and buy the latest upgrades, stay on top of Apple news, and Instagram photos of themselves waiting in line outside the store on Apple product release days.
The last piece of the Apple mind warp is the price. It’s no secret: Apple products cost a lot and Apple makes a huge profit on many of their items. However, these high prices might not deter customers but tempt them. The high prices make the product seem better and more luxurious. Research from marketing and neuroscience shows that expensive winestaste better, expensive medicine works better, and expensive sports drinks make people feel more capable than the lower priced identical products.
Paying the high prices also makes people feel the need to justify their purchase. Apple users must believe that their Macbook Pro is truly worth the price. In contrast, PC users who buy cheaper Microsoft alternatives don’t need to believe in its quality as much to feel good about buying it: they can always say, “I got a fairly good laptop for a great price.” High prices are not just high prices: they are part of the mindwarping machine.
Apple indeed makes great products, there is no doubt. However, the way Apple-users view Apple products as nearly divine and their insane devotion to Apple is something beyond rationality. In the end, the greatest strength of Apple may not be in its technology but in its ability to package, price, and market the technology. Apple is not an only a powerful technological innovator, it’s a marketing juggernaut.