Of iPhone and the irrational love (or hatred) for brands

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It’s that time of the year again. An Apple event announcing a new lineup of iPhones (among other gadgets) is just over. And like clock work, all that we have come to associate with such events have happened: rumours about what is going to launched, leaks of product features, media commentary and so on. The live event on Sep 12 had its share of opinions on social media platforms. I was amused at the snarky and sometimes hateful comments about iPhone in general and its buyers in particular.

Apple has been at the receiving end of both adulation and criticism for years now. In the pre-iPhone world, ‘Mac vs PC’ was a legendary war. Back then, fans from either side of the divide use to have slug fest in the comments section of articles and blogs. Now such fights are common on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook between fans of Android and iPhone. In my view there is an element of irrationality in it all – from both sides. As we know irrationality can be channelised in both positive and negative ways. Someone may madly aspire to achieve a goal or own an expensive object and may work hards towards making that a reality. And exploiting – ok, converting such an opportunity in marketing is only possible with select brands. Among cars, there will be a handful of brands which enjoy a ‘dream car’ status. And such a status need not necessarily be owned by super expensive brands (a two-wheeler owner may aspire to own a sedan and may have a few brands in the consideration set as his ‘dream cars’). Such goals are determined by budget considerations and how far can they can be stretched. For most car owners a Mercedes Benz or a BMW would be ‘out of reach’. Yet such brands evoke a sense of desire in the. Very importantly not all brands can aspire to be in such a league. For example, the sentiment as expressed in the famous ad below feels credible for a Porsche and not any car.

In his book, Truth, Lies and Advertising, Jon Steel recounts from a piece of consumer research for Porsche. Non-Porsche owners were asked to imagine what they would think in their head when seeing a Porsche pull up at a traffic light.

I was reminded of the above when seeing tweets summarily dismissing buyers of iPhone as idiots who are simply taken in by the hype and part with their money easily for ‘overhyped’ stuff. Here are some aspects related to the phenomenon of irrational love (or hatred) for some brands:

Emotional brain vs rational brain: contrary to popular belief, we all make our decisions driven by the emotional brain. The rational brain is only good at rationalising what the emotional brain has already decided. An iPhone is a great candidate for an emotion-driven purchase. But that does not mean that they are fooling people by getting them into their fold (sorry, Samsung). Remember, no amount of great marketing can sell a bad product or one that does not live up to its promise. So I feel its downright silly to expect people to be fooled all the time. That said, there is an amount of ‘Kool-Aid’ that comes into play when it comes to ‘believing’ all that Apple has to say in its marketing. But that’s part of all marketing. People willingly pay a huge premium for Gillette shaving razors when every new launch is an incremental one in terms of features (five blades instead of four). On a personal note, I do feel Gillete is a much superior product having tried few other brands which promise similar quality at a lesser price.

Value for money: even in marketing circles a ‘VFM brand’ is a reference one which is widely affordable (as compared to a premium option) and ‘packed’ with features. It’s a bit like ‘does what competition can, at a lower price’. Such an argument has great appeal as it makes the buyer feel smarter. But even those who can afford to buy expensive brands do see great value in them. A pen is a pen is a pen and then there’s a Mont Blanc. A hotel is a hotel is a hotel and then there’s a Taj property. In that context, I don’t understand why people should get judgemental about others who willingly choose to spend $1000+ on a mobile phone. All of us may operate with the mindset of ‘this much and no more’ when it comes to a stretch budget on many things. A luxury car maybe totally worth it for someone while someone else (who can afford to pay a similar amount) may not see it as great value.

Let people buy what makes them happy: this is a no-brainer but we all (yours truly included) get judgemental about choices other people make – whether it is in music, movies, books or fashion. People who consider themselves lovers of ‘serious cinema’ tend to have a dim view of those who like commercial cinema (for which there is no dearth in India). As long as the choices aren’t meant to offend any sentiments of a group, there shouldn’t be a problem. Apple – more under the microscope:

The pressure of expectations: there are millions of product launches in a year. No one expects them to be breakthrough innovations. But with Apple it’s different. Thanks to its own reputation, somehow everyone expects an iPhone which also makes coffee or doubles up as a rocket launcher.

Mobile tech has peaked?: the iPhone was launched in 2007. Back then the most commonly available phones were very different in terms of functionality and design. Only after the iPhone launch did the Android world take to a design which has re-shaped the mobile industry. Sure, the Android world has led with many firsts which Apple copied later: larger screen handsets, customisation to name a couple. But has there been a truly revolutionary design either in hardware or OS in the non-iPhone world over the years? In my view – no. Most changes and upgrades have been incremental with significant improvements seen in camera capabilities. So minor updates are to be expected. And remember the US is a key market for iPhones where telecom brands subsidise ownership with affordable data & mobile plans locked in for a two year period. So there is always a group ready for an upgrade compared to markets like India. Also with this year’sevolutionary and not revolutionary‘ push Apple is appealing to the gaming community in terms of hardware.

What’s your view on the over-the-top love or hatred Apple products in general and iPhone in particular generate? Do comment in.

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