Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Why did you choose Apple?

After making the decision that I wanted to go to University, I soon realised that it would be difficult for me to drag my desktop computer into the halls of residencies. Alas, it was time to for me to finally consider the more transportable, lighter and convenient option - a laptop. What I didn’t consider, however, was what sort of laptop I wanted. No, this I already knew - I was going to save up a couple of months wages and buy a MacBook. I did as such, and was pleased with myself many months later when seemingly hundreds of other Apple logos lit up right before my first lecture. I must have made a good decision, right?

But why? I’d never used anything other than the Windows operating system since I was a small kid, I know it like the back of my hand. Yet, I didn’t even consider a Windows laptop. How are Apple persuading me, and many, many others to spend more money on a laptop that doesn’t even come with MS Word (who even writes essays on anything else…)? To address ‘how’ we’ll look at three components.

1)     The Brand

Apple is huge. We’ve all heard of the company, we know what they make and most likely we own, or have owned, one of their products. However, behind all of their technology, they have used ‘The Liking Principle’ (Cialdini, 2007) to persuade people to like them and buy from them because, well, they’re Apple. Take a look at this video, for instance:

The advertisement addresses you directly, as if you are the only person who has ever, or will ever see the video. This personal involvement increases the likelihood that the you will process the information centrally, and engage more consciously with the advertisement (Petty, Cacioppo & Schumann, 1983). So, now it has your attention, it floods you with flattery, which leads you to generate affection towards the source, even if there is no merit to the praise (Berscheid & Hatfield, 1978; Drachman & Insko, 1978). Now you’re beginning to like the source, Apple are no longer a brand, but a friend that has your full attention and is complementing the fact that you ‘see differently’ to others. As the advert continues, it states that ‘together’ you can ‘change things’, before commenting on making the world a ‘better place’. Now, making the world a better place is something I’m sure we all want to do. However, Apple are well aware of the fact that aligning with the social views of someone leads them to feel closer to you (Mehrabian, 1968).

Essentially, this whole advert is built to persuade you to view Apple not as a multi-billionaire company, but a friend. What I find remarkable is that it is not even remotely subtle – did you notice that they are not actually promoting a single product in the entire advert? They are persuading you to ‘buy’ into the Apple brand itself. And, typically, if you don’t have an Apple product but have a positive attitude towards Apple, the dissonance between your attitude and behaviour may itself cause you to buy into the brand (Festinger, 1957).

Funnily enough, society recognises this. I’m sure you’ve heard people say that you buy an iPhone because it’s an Apple product, well, you can see that this is pretty much true. A brand is more than the sum of its parts ­– it is not just a label used for differentiation, rather, it is a multifaceted symbol that works to represent many different ideas and attributes (Fanning, 1999). In this case, the Apple brand signifies trust, warmth and teamwork – because they’ve persuaded you to like them, which makes you likely to buy from them (Cialdini, 2007).

2)     The Product

When trying to sell a specific product, Apple are smart. For instance, take a look at this video showcasing the MacBook Pro:

The video has commentary from Apple’s senior vice president of ‘Design’, Jony Ive. Now, being a senior vice president at Apple would suggest to the viewer that Jony knows a thing or two about what constitutes a good design. Indeed, Apple are using the Authority Principle (Cialdini, 2007). That is, people rely on cues and heuristics to make a judgement on whether to purchase something (Ngamvichaikit & Beise-Zee, 2014). In this case, Jony being an ‘expert’ (as shown by his job title!) is a persuasive cue, and he is promoting a laptop with a finish they have ‘never even dreamed of before’. This, in turn, makes the laptop seem almost better than it is, because Jony is selling it, and naturally – he knows what he’s talking about. However, Jony is not in a lab coat or a suit, but he is wearing a rather normal t-shirt. This is no mistake, as we are more likely to listen to people that we see as similar to ourselves (Festinger, 1954). Therefore, when we see a bloke, in a similar t-shirt to one we have up in the wardrobe, advertising a new product, it makes you want to listen to him and take in what he’s saying. Thus, Apple have persuaded us not only to listen what is being said (t-shirt), but to take it as reliable information (expert), which increases the likelihood of a later purchase (Ngamvichaikit & Beise-Zee, 2014).  

In addition, the video not only persuades you to listen to and believe what is being said, but it facilitates your ability to remember it. For instance, emotion is said to stimulate and activate the brain, which leads to better recall further down the line (Jensen, 1988). One way of inducing emotion is by telling a story (Banikowski & Mehring, 1999), which is effectively done in Apple’s video. For instance, Jony describes the years of hard work that has gone into the product, and how they have managed to develop this new design at last. The tone of Jony’s voice makes you genuinely feel like Apple have put blood sweat and tears into the product, just for you. So not only do you remember this when you’re next in PC World, but you likely feel that Apple have done something for you, and so you are more likely to reciprocate and buy their MacBook (Skågeby, 2010).

3)     The Reinforcement

When you next watch TV, or go to the cinema, keep in mind that Apple have some of the highest product placement statistics going (Yoshida, 2014). Product placement is a great tool for big companies as it is incredibly persuasive. For instance, people model themselves on attractive others (Brumbaugh, 1993). That attraction may be their occupation, wealth, physical looks – anything that they have which you want. If said attractive person is using a MacBook, by association you see that MacBook as an attractive, or desirable, item, which – you guessed it – makes you more likely to buy one for yourself (Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972). In addition, product placement acts as a form of social proof (Cialdini, 2007). That is, we have a greater trust in products that are popular with, and advocated by, celebrities or our friends. With the ubiquity of Apple products being used by ‘attractive’ actors in shows and films we love, we therefore trust the product more – if its good enough for Captain America, its good enough for me.

Moreover, social proof can be provided by anyone. As I said earlier, in my first lecture I would say a good 80% of people were using some form of Apple product (MacBook, iPad, iPhone) to take their notes on. I would imagine that if a student needed a new laptop, they may look around and think: “Wow, it would seem that MacBook’s are really popular, if they are preferred by everyone on the same course as me, I should definitely look at getting one.” Essentially, the 'wisdom of the crowd’ would make MacBook’s seem like the only decent option (Surowiecki, 2005).

Closing Thoughts

So, on reflection, why did I buy a MacBook? I would say, for me, the Apple brand and social pressure was key. I’ve always simply liked Apple. For no real reason, either. In fact, sitting here tapping away on my MacBook itself, I can’t think of any reason as to why I like Apple for being Apple. Ultimately, I think it boils down to superb advertising, and for the reasons stated above, they have successfully persuaded me to like them ­– and now it’s too late, I’m committed. While the MacBook itself is a fantastic product, as our friend Jony has discussed, I don’t think this is what ultimately swayed me. Simply seeing Apple products everywhere made me want to join the club, so I did. After all, everyone wants to be a part of the in-group (Nail, MacDonald & Levy, 2000).


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