Let’s be honest: Apple creates excellent products. But don't you need more than that to become the world’s first trillion-dollar company? In this post we explore how Apple used brand psychology to create magic around their brand and connect to the deepest layers of our subconscious mind.
When Apple entered the computer market in the late 1970s, it entered a world structurally dominated by masculinity and logos. A technocratic, instrumental outlook set the tone for the field, with IBM being exemplary of this attitude. What Apple brought into this cold world of computer technology was eros, a more feminine and humanistic approach, together with a vision of democratizing computer technology by making it more accessible to individuals.
The eros that Apple embodied reflected the aesthetic, cultural, and spiritual values of Steve Jobs, who was driven by an extraverted intuitiveness and influenced by Zen Buddhism. The philosophy of Zen centers on the search for direct insight into the universe through the long, constant, patient practice of meditation. It emphasizes action over theory, and cultivates a sense of simplicity inspired by its Japanese heritage.
With its products, Apple introduced a more intuitive and direct way to engage with and relate to computers by breaking down the traditional borders between human and machine, between subject and object. The introduction of the “mouse” with the first Macintosh computer, for example, opened up a new, more immediate way to relate to the computer screen’s graphical interface. Apple’s products, then, in their sleekness and simplicity, evoked a Zen sensibility and a beauty that might be considered humanistic.
But this is not all. In order to connect on the deepest levels of brand identification, Apple has (unconsciously and partly consciously) become a symbol for the contemporary collective’s search for transcendence through technology. Historian David Franklin Noble writes in his book The Religion of Technology that in an attempt to regain a lost sense of divinity, we have come to identify technology with transcendence, approaching it as a gateway to salvation and redemption from the brokenness of the world and humanity’s limitations.
Apple as a Living Symbol
When Apple entered the computer market in the late 1970s, it stepped right into a big-business corporate world structurally dominated by masculinity and logos.
A technocratic and instrumental view dominated the field, with IBM being exemplary of this attitude. What Apple brought into this cold world of computer technology was eros, a more feminine and humanistic approach, together with a vision of democratizing computer technology by making it universally available to individuals.
The eros that Apple embodied was more explicitly the aesthetic, cultural, and spiritual beliefs of Steve Jobs, most likely inspired from his own spiritual values and the visionary imagination of his extraverted intuition. With its products, Apple introduced a more intuitive and direct way to engage with and relate to computers by breaking down the traditional borders between human and machine, subject and object. An example of this was the introduction of the mouse with the first Macintosh computer, which opened up a new, more immediate way to relate to the screen’s graphical interface. Rather than a masculine, technological aesthetic, Apple’s products, in their sleekness and simplicity, evoked a Zen sensibility and a beauty that might be considered feminine.
The Mythology of Apple’s Early Days
“It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right?”. This extract is from a keynote speech Steve Jobs gave before showcasing the new Apple television commercial promoting the release of the Macintosh in 1984. The commercial (directed by Ridley Scott) took its inspiration from George Orwell’s novel, 1984.
It showed a female heroine dressed in a white tank top with a picture of a Macintosh computer on it, carrying a sledgehammer in her hand. She ran through a dystopian landscape that cinematically referenced the opening scene of the classic film Metropolis. She raced toward a large screen with a big-brother-like Orwellian figure preaching to rows of gray, robotic men. She swung the hammer, and it crashed the screen. An explosion occurred and the commercial ended with the speaker and copy text, “On January 24, 1984, Apple will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984”.
The commercial was screened only one time, during America’s primetime media mega- occasion, the 1984 Super Bowl. This singular ad further enhanced the mythology that was forming around the company and its products. The young woman in the commercial appeared as a living personification of the Apple brand—the embodiment of a Promethean figure who represents the feminine, liberating force within a technological and instrumental world until then dominated by masculine sensibilities.
Apple was symbolically slaying this old dragon and thereby also the values they represented. Embedded in this symbolical act was the revolutionary idea of embracing computers as transforming tools, liberating individuals in a society still dominated by the structure of patriarchal authority, which was viewed as inhibiting them from becoming authentic individuals. A personal computer revolution, inspired by Jobs’s counterculture beliefs, channeled through the marketplace.
Interpreted this way, the 1984 commercial and Apple’s launch of the first Macintosh can be seen as a marker of a paradigm shift in collective attitudes. The materialization of a counterculture hero and archetype in the marketplace, an archetypal constellation that had been brewing in the collective since the late 1960s, pregnant in Steve Jobs’s psyche, was born into new life through Apple. It found its corporate body, entered the market place, and spread throughout the world, exporting its associated values to consumers. Apple became an attractor and a symbol for this powerful psychic energy.
Jobs’s attunement to this collective shift was his visionary strength, but like the magician who allows lightening to run through him, he was open to allowing the archetypal energies to channel through his personality. For a long time, Apple’s brand mythology would hover around the theme of the countercultural hero.
Lusensky M. Jakob Brandpsycho - The hidden psychology of brands (Black Books, 2018).