How Apple Plays Upon Our Insecurities

Donald Miller

Most advertisers play on the psychological phenomenon of association/disassociation. An example of association/disassociation might be displayed in a comment like: “The trailblazers lost last night” when my team loses, and “We won last night” when my team wins. I disassociate from what I perceive as losing and associate with what I perceive as winning. I explain why I think we do this in Searching for God Know’s What, relating it all back to what really happened at the fall of man. But right now I want to address how we have all been duped by this phenomenon as it is used in Apple advertisements.

Advertisers carefully position their products next to people who carry social commodity. Often, this is sexual, but it can also be wealth, power, humor and wit (which in ways are all sexual, too). Advertisers, then, are associating their products with our biochemical desire to reproduce and carry on our lines, and also with a relational insecurity we all have regarding redemption. Usually, this is subtle, an attractive man or woman using a certain dish detergent or driving a certain car is seen touting a products significance.

Sexual fertility manifests itself in women in high cheek bones and a 70% waist-to-hip ratio, and in men through a chiseled jaw and broad shoulders. Usually, what we find immediately attractive in the opposite sex is actually our reproductive system wanting our line to survive.

And last years Apple campaign came just came right out and said it:

If you use Apple computers, you are more likely to get laid.

Essentially, the campaign stated if you are young, cool and smooth, you will use Apple products, and if you are fat, old and geeky, you will use IBM.

Here is a good example of the familiar ad:

What amazes me about these ads is that they appealed to and “worked” on an audience many people perceived as cynical about this sort of manipulation. Apple, having been a minority share-holder in the market branded themselves as aloof outsiders, swimming upstream in a culture of conformists. But in all reality, those of us who have fallen for this campaign are the worst offenders. I would even argue the use of Apple products, to some degree, mark us as the most insecure about our identities.

Apple products are defended with near-religious zest. But in our zest are we defending a company or our own identites? Perhaps what we’ve been offered is a brand to associate ourselves with, a brand that triggers our survival instincts, revealing we don’t believe we have enough to survive without this association? Perhaps the use of Apple products reveals insecurity more than it reveals confidence.

Consider Microsoft’s counter ads, which expose the stereotype being created by Apple, focussing on the use of a computer as a tool to do good in the world:

While the ad was true, I doubt it will do much to counter the sexual/social instincts Apple plays upon.

It could be argued that Apple has better product, but I don’t think this is true. There is plenty of superior product that has not taken off the way Apple product has. I think they have great products, and they are user-friendly to be sure, but this can hardly explain the explosion in sales and market share. Without good, user-friendly product, the ads wouldn’t carry the company, I know. It’s the combination of the two that is making Apple a successful company.

But my question isn’t so much about Apple as it is about us. In a culture where we are made to feel socially inferior if we don’t use certain brands or products, what does a true counter-culture look like?

If you think about it, the most confident of counter-culture heros aren’t talking on i-phones, wearing designer jeans or jumping in the air in their facebook photos (why are all the hipsters suddenly jumping in their facebook photos? Why didn’t anybody call me to say we were doing that?) but instead are the people most of us might not notice. The reason we don’t notice these people is because they offer us no beneficial association. They buy products because the products work, they buy jeans because they cover their asses, and coats because a certain coat will keep them warm. A true counter culture is not manipulated by the whims of fashion and therefore is not made up of fashionable people. 

I’ve used Apple computers for about fifteen years now. If I had bought Apple stock with all the money I’ve spent buying Apple products, I’d own a lot of Apple Stock (it took me twenty minutes to give up on that line) and to be honest, I’ve been influenced by the commercials without even knowing it. Using a Mac has made me feel cool over the last few years.

It’s true most of my cool friends use Apple Computers. In fact, I think all of my cool friends use Apple Computers. All my friends in rock bands have I-phones. All the girls I know with high cheek bones have I-phones too. They don’t call me with them, but I’ve seen them talking on I-phones to my friends in rock bands. Maybe Apple products do help with fertility. I guess that’s a nature/nurture question. Or maybe all my cool friends are secretly fat losers on the inside. Who knows.

But the reality is, even though I use Apple products, I am not cool. I never have been. I don’t have a chiseled jaw or broad shoulders. I am the same approximate height and weight as the PC guy in the Apple ad, (not the bloated version, although I used to be) and I’m probably a couple years older than him. 

Don’t feel sorry for me. It hurt to realize these things at the time, but the truth is I’m probably happier now than I’ve ever been. I don’t exactly know why, except I’m older and part of me has just given up on the game. It feels good to quit. The world will go on with or without me, and I don’t want to miss another sunset worrying about it.

That said, the reason I wrote all this was to ask you hipsters a question:

Would it be okay if I continued using Apple products? I don’t know how to use Windows. 

And also, can somebody photoshop me jumping for my facebook photo? I don’t jump. I don’t much see the use of jumping.


P.S. I am about to get bombarded with a bunch of “apple is a superior brand with superior product” which I’ll have to talk about for a second.

this was not a bash of apple product. it was a bash on advertising. and on sin nature. that said, without the advertising strategy, the product would have never been sold, and the development dollars never earned. so we are all buying these products because of the advertising. i think the quality of the product is exceptional, but the two go hand in hand.

P.S.S. Reader Dave Stevens offers this: Thanks Dave!

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.