Granny Smith vs Macintosh

“Learning is not so much an additive process, with new learning simply piling up on top of existing knowledge, as it is an active, dynamic process in which the connections are constantly changing and the structure reformatted.”

K. Patricia Cross

On January 22, 1984, Apple Computer Inc. launched its first television commercial during Super Bowl XVIII. A monotone-clad army marches through an Orwellian construct of policy control and propaganda in a large dark arena. On a gigantic screen, a tyrannical Big Brother speaks to the masses of ideology. Suddenly, a blonde woman in bright red shorts and a white tank top, featuring a Macintosh computer, comes running through the crowd with a giant sledgehammer. She turns, yelps, and flings it towards the massive screen, creating an explosion of white light. Then, text overlays the television screen reading, “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984’.”

Today, this dramatic marketing scheme seems like just about the farthest thing away from Apple’s cool and calm advertising methodology we can think of. But it was important at the time. Apple had to let the millions of people in America know that, soon, there would be a simple, user-friendly, and revolutionary personal computer for everyone to use. For anyone to use.

It gained a following immediately, but it also gained resistance from those who thought it might just be a toy, seeing it as too radical of an idea to accomplish. Over the next 13 years, Apple’s growth was a rollercoaster of innovation and failure, success and decline. Until 1998, one year after the company’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, returned to Macintosh. It was at this time that the iMac was introduced, and a revolution was begun.

How did this incorporation, up against the powerhouse IBM, explode into an epidemic of hip technology? They knew three things: self, audience, and message. The combined knowledge and awareness of these crucial points made Apple Computer Inc. one of the most persuasive businesses we have today.

It all started with their 1984 ad. At the time, Apple knew exactly who they weren’t. They addressed the public’s fear and doubt in the force of technological standardization. They were notcorporative tools. Instead, Apple stood for liberation and as Jobs put it, “the democratization of technology.”Over time, they defined themselves as the people’s computer, one that was accessible, edgy, and fun. A concrete foundation of an idea gave them a persona; a basis of what they strived for. For years to come, these attributes would be the ones that made them something everyone wanted. Computers became commodities; and having the hippest, most revolutionary, and intuitive piece of information spreading technology, became the necessity of the late 1990’s. From the very start, Apple made it known that they would alwaysbe the rebellious, groundbreaking, and independent personal computer. Formulating and maintaining a distinct and credible character gives a company or product integrity, an easily marketed trait.

With identity in hand, Apple then targeted a specific audience. Aware of the fact that PC stood as the exiting authority in technology, Apple took advantage of IBM’s established title. How could they make an audience of already non-believers see that personal computers were not only an amazing advancement, but that Apple computers could give them more than the corporate giant? Because, in 1984, they were the underdogs, and who doesn’t want the underdog to win? We root for the little anti-authority guy with spunk, who is up against major odds. Apple had an appealing identity that came with an appealing story. With the viewer on Apple’s team, an emotional relationship was established.

In 1998, when the iMac was released to the public, the underdog prevailed. Apple’s leaps and bounds in memory space development and faster Internet access gave them cutting-edge power. In addition, this sleek, design conscious, “Bondi Blue” G3 demanded attention. Its aesthetically pleasing look captured the eye of millions and soon became embedded in popular culture. People no longer bought computers simply because they needed them for work, but because they liked them. They like the way they looked they also liked the way they acted. This intuitive infrastructure turned this chunk of plastic into something friendly and fun to use.The likeability gave Apple a major advantage.

Apple knew the type of person who would want this computer and geared their product design and advertisements towards them. G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa, authors of The Art of Woo keenly observed that, “the answer lies in paying attention to both your own motives and the effects of your actions on others when you sell your ideas.” Apple noted the power in high-end design and straightforward capabilities, a value of the creative thinkers, artistic mavens, and competitive visionaries. These are the types of people who wanted the underdog to win, who valued companionship and comradeship in intelligence, inspiration, and technology.

The last component of their success is constituted by their ability to relay a simple, concrete, and sticky message. Apple understood the principle of subjectivity and knew they had to take the current perception of computers and change it. The only way to boil down this looming and obscure image was to give the people something simple and concrete, both in design and function. Starting in 1995 with their “Think different” campaign, Apple was blunt with their advertising. “Think different,” meant, “be different,” and being different required a Macintosh computer. In 2002, “Switch” became the new slogan, an even more clear-cut request. Finally, in 2006, the ever popular “Get a Mac” campaign took off, consisting of a 24 controversial series. Justin Long appears on the right of the screen as a relaxed and amiable young-adult, introducing himself with, “Hello, I’m a Mac”, while to the left, John Hodgman, appearing as a dull and uptight suit, introduces himself with,“And I’m a PC”. How’s that for blunt?

Apple presents you with a clear choice on a plain white screen. You have “cool and compatible” on your right, and “lame and dysfunctional” on your left. It’s simple. It’s concrete. And it’s a sticky idea because it’s fun. In fact, it is so sticky that Apple grew 552% in 2003, making them the highest profit growth in technology companies that year. Their expansion of MacBook, to iPod, to iPhone, largely contributed to this increase. Today’s youth lives in a MacSaturated world.

Apple Computer Inc.changed the notion of what computers can be. They can be laptops, music drives, or phones. The message sent here is, why have a machine when you could have a companion? As humans, we readily adapt to this change because we are active learners. As the theory of constructionism states, we actively construct mental models and theories everyday of the world around us. Being persuasive requires tweaking a norm into something better, something more appealing and exciting. Because Apple developed a strong identity, targeted the right audience, and came out with a clear-cut message, they turned around the outlook on the personal computer. And in the end, the underdog triumphed.

References (2003). Top 10 reasons to switch. Apple Computer, Inc. Chen, I. Cognitive Constructivist Theory. An Electronic Textbook on Instructional Technology. Edwards, B. (2008). Eight ways iMac changed computing. Friedman, T. Apple’s 1984: An Introduction of the Macintosh in the Cultural History of Personal Computers. Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2007). Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die… Random House. Shell, G.R. & Moussa, M. (2007). The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas. CFAR, Inc. Swarts, J. (2000). Resurgence Of An American Icon.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s