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How Apple Became A Luxury Brand Without Us Realizing It

Updated January 13, 2020 16.8k views12 items

Apple products have come a long way from their beginnings in Steve Jobs's garage. The company has taken a turn away from functionality and toward extravagance, leading many consumers to wonder whether Apple is now a luxury brand. The answer, overwhelmingly, seems to be yes.

"I have always thought of Apple as a luxury brand," Greg Furman of the Luxury Marketing Council shared in an interview with CNBC. "They have the hearts and minds of today’s most affluent consumers." How was a company whose merchandise is purchased by the masses able to transform itself into an elite fashion brand? Apple has accomplished this through subtle mass marketing, slowly evolving product lines, and carefully planned price increases.

Apple's luxury brand maneuvering might have reached its apex when it released the Apple Watch in 2015, with price tags for some watch bands soaring into the thousands. Although American consumers seem to be undeterred by these changes, Apple's attachments to style and image are not doing well in some international markets. The future of the Apple "experience" remains to be determined.

  • Photo: Unknown / Max Pixel / Public Domain

    'An iPhone Is Saying To A Potential Mate, "I Have Good Genes. You Should Mate With Me."'

    Through effective brand marketing, Apple taps into the instincts of its consumers by making itself seem essential to survival, regardless of what it's selling. This is the theory espoused by New York University professor Scott Galloway in his book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Thanks to Apple's ability to control people's feelings through the look of its products, those with Apple goods seem more evolved, and, thus, appealing.

    As Galloway told one interviewer about Apple's marketing approach:

    You’re either appealing to the brain, the heart, or the genitals, and as you move down the torso, the margins get better, because the decision-making becomes more irrational.

    He expanded upon this, saying, "An iPhone is saying to... a potential mate, 'I have good genes. You should mate with me.'" This is the sort of romantic appeal that is generally associated with luxury brands, not technology companies.

  • Photo: Unknown / Max Pixel / Public Domain

    Apple’s Design Of Rounded Edges And Circles Has An Evolutionary Appeal - Pointed Edges Signal Danger

    Deeply embedded in Apple's design philosophy for its devices are rounded, not pointed, edges. The iOS operating system also features curved app icons and smooth transitions.

    One blogger on the website Pando summarized the effect of these choices on the brain:

    A neuromarketer would tell you that the brain loves curves but detests sharp edges, which sets off an avoidance response in our subconscious. In the way our ancestors stood clear of sticks or jagged stones fashioned into weapons, we avoid sharp objects, viewing them as potential threats.

    Perceptions of Apple products have been deliberately shaped to boost a user's sense of participating in a lifestyle that is cutting-edge and opulent. Scott Galloway believes one of the hallmarks of a luxury brand is "reverence for artisanship and craft," which Apple achieves in leaps and bounds.

  • Apple’s Advertising Has Always Focused On Sleekness And Simplicity, Not Features, Cost, Or Competitors

    The Apple brand's stores, products, and advertising are united around the concept of simplicity. In a world where people are inundated with marketing imagery, Apple chose to stand out from the start.

    Steve Hayden, copywriter of the famous 1984 Apple Superbowl commercial, explained Apple's strategy to Ad Week:

    We thought of it as an ideology, a value set. It was a way of letting the whole world access the power of computing and letting them talk to one another. The democratization of technology - the computer for the rest of us.

    Apple has capitalized on this creed ever since, even as it has become decidedly less democratic about the price of its products. Apple's ads, like its brand in general, are based on feelings. The company's ad campaigns avoid controversy or excess detail by giving consumers clean, artistic glimpses into the universe Apple has created with its output.

    In essence, Apple transformed itself into a luxury brand before its loyal base's eyes without them even realizing it.

  • Apple Continues To Raise Prices On Its Highest-End Products

    Affordability is not a consideration for Apple these days. Erwan Rambourg from HSBC’s Global Consumer & Retail Equity Research made this clear in 2017 when he said:

    With an offensive retail strategy and in some cases, comparable price points, Apple has competed with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Cartier, or Prada.

    With its $1,000 iPhone 10 and $2,000 to $6,000 MacBook Pro, Apple's newer versions of its popular products belong to a different class. And these are not even the most expensive products sporting the Apple logo. Apple's highest-end iMac Pro costs more than $13,000, which is more expensive than a 2018 Nissan Versa.