Remember those “silhouette” iPod ads from over a decade ago, showing young, hip people having a better time than you while decked out in all-white Apple gear? Remember how popular they were, and how many parodies they inspired?
Those ads worked so well for Apple because they promoted the all-important idea that the iPod wasn’t a gadget — it was a lifestyle. You, too, can have as good a time as these earbud-wearing hipsters!
It laid the groundwork for Apple’s further ad campaigns, like the famous “Get a Mac” ads, with the younger, ostensibly cooler Justin Long playing the Mac against John Hodgman’s older, nerdier PC. Or the first wave of iPhone commercials in 2007, which featured young creatives talking about how the new phone let them express themselves.
The coded subtext of every Apple ad is that your life is maybe not being lived to the fullest without an Apple gadget. It works very well, and it’s a big driver of Apple’s position as manufacturers of the phone, laptop, watch, and tablet you need to own if you want to be a part of the elusive in-crowd.
It’s a position that Apple has paid dearly to attain: In 2015 alone, Apple spent $1.8 billion on advertising, which was 50% over 2014. Indeed, Apple’s ad spend has been on a pretty steady rise since the iPhone’s introduction in 2007.
Now, with the introduction of the iPhone 7, it looks like Apple’s massive investments in marketing and branding are paying off, with a new model of phone that actually removes a key functionality, while delivering only incremental updates — and that will likely still sell like crazy, regardless.
It’s easy when you’re the best
From the time it launched in 2007, the iPhone quickly established itself as the best, most premium phone on the market. The BlackBerry was fine if you were a square; the first wave of Android phones were highly unpolished compared to the details-driven iPhone.
It’s always been the coolest. Actors, musicians, and other tastemakers use the iPhone, and will even shell out for fancy cases and luxury accessories. Among private citizens, using the iPhone is a signal of status and ability to pay for the best, the same way that a nice suit or expensive BMW shows that you mean business.
Maintaining its position as a status symbol hasn’t always been easy for Apple: Competitors, namely Samsung, have drastically upped their game in both product design and marketing, keeping Apple well on its toes as it both builds and promotes new iPhone models.
But for the most part, the iPhone is an easy sell. Each new iPhone has always been the best phone in the year it’s released, or at least a viable contender for that title. And Apple’s ongoing ad blitz reassures people that the newest iPhone will only improve their lifestyle.
It’s created a pleasant cycle of people excited to upgrade because they know Apple will provide them only the best, supported by advertising that tells them that this is so.
It’s worked out well for Apple so far, leading it to becoming the most valuable company in the world. Now, it’s taking control of that cycle like never before.
If you take Apple at face value, removing the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 is a move designed to usher in a huge industry shift towards wireless headphones. They call it “courage.”
If you’re more cynical, like me, you can see it as an attempt to take control of the lucrative headphones market by rendering all existing wired units obsolete. That is, unless you use an unsightly and easy-to-lose dongle. But dongles aren’t cool, and the iPhone is all about cool.
No matter how you look at it, iPhone 7 owners are going to be buying a phone that will, more likely than not, result in them having to buy lots of new accessories, including but not limited to a $40 adaptor that lets you charge and listen to music at the same time, and/or Apple’s new $159 AirPod wireless earbuds.
Apple isn’t the first manufacturer to remove the headphone jack from their phones: LeEco and Motorola have both released Android devices without them. But those are relative blips against the many other top-tier Android phones out there, notably the Samsung Galaxy S7 and its larger cousin, the S7 Note.
That lack of a headphone jack is going to give a lot of people pause. But because Apple has spent the better part of a decade building trust with its core customers that the new iPhone is always the best phone available, more people are going to take the leap than I think some industry-watchers are prepared for.
It’s good news for Apple, in terms of both iPhone sales and the long-term viability of its Beats headphones business. That ongoing push to keep customers upgrading their iPhones and spending more in accessories per unit is important for Apple, as the overall smartphone industry starts to flatten out.
That said, whether iPhone customers still feel like they’re getting the most premium phone available after the iPhone 7 comes out remains to be seen. Marketing is great for earning the benefit of the doubt. In a world flooded with smartphone options, the onus is still on Apple to deliver the best product possible.
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