Apple fans or Religious followers – Product buzzing and viral marketing

Apple Fans or Religious followers: Abstract

This synopsis “Apple Fans or Religious followers” discuss how Apple is influencing the buzzing in various communities to use this form of viral marketing to brand their products. This synopsis was an exam project for the class “Researching Aspects of Business” at Aarhus School of Business, University of Aarhus (Handelshøjskolen i Århus, Århus Universitet) and was awarded the grade 10 on the danish note scale.

1       Introduction

Unlike any other company Apple Inc[1] has a history of keeping information about new products to themselves until the official announcement of a product. In connection to this they do not advertise or in any other way announce that they have new and upcoming products. However, this does not keep the Apple followers from buzzing greatly about the next upcoming product from AI, especially around the time of a MacWorld Expo[2]. This buzzing about their products is free marketing for AI and the buzzing is so powerful that it even affects the stock value of AI (McCoy, 1995, s. 8). This synopsis focuses on the following problem statement; “How does Apple Inc create buzzing to be used in viral marketing to brand products?” This synopsis claims that Apple users are comparable to religious followers and that AI uses this subculture in their viral marketing to start the buzzing about new products. The goal of this synopsis is to either accept or refute the claim.

To achieve the goal this synopsis will start out by reviewing evidence of how AI has cultivated ‘religious’ followers and then use this evidence to show how that has made buzzing possible in connection with the iPhone. The evidence will be used in a discussion about the impact of viral marketing as means to brand a product. This will be combined with Russell W. Belk and Gülnur Tumbat’s study on Brand Cult to put the reviewed evidence and discussion into perspective. Finally, the synopsis will accept or refute the claim.

1.1      Evidence of Apple religion and buzzing

According to Belk & Tumbat(2005, s. 209) Apple users praise AI as if it was a messiah and this is not an uncommon perception of Apple users. Belk & Tumbat define Brand Cult as consumers with an extreme devotion towards specific brands(Belk & Tumbat, 2005, s. 205). A study of emotional powerful brands found that the same regions of the brain were activated when a brand icon was exposed to a brand fan as when a devoted believer was exposed to faith related icons (Lindström, 2008). Using this study in the context of Apple users it could be argued that some Apple users are as devoted to AI as some Christians are to Christianity. This is supported by Belk & Tumbat who in their study of Brand Cult found that “The Mac and its fans constitute the equivalent of a religion.”(Belk & Tumbat, 2005, s. 207).

In a study of passion for activities Robert J. Vallerand describes harmonious passion as originating from “an autonomous internalisation of the activity in identity and leads people to choose to engage in the activity that they love. It is expected to mainly lead to more adaptive outcomes.”(Vallerand, 2008, s. 1). This means that people who choose to participate in an activity tend to promote adaptive outcomes. This argument is used in an article by Will Willis, where he takes the perspective that harmonious passion[3] is the source of evangelism(Willis, 2009, s. 2). In his article Willis uses AI as an example of a company that have fostered evangelists in their Apple users(Willis, 2009). When a person is passionate about something they usually want to share their passion with others and the same goes for Apple users. This is true for everyone regardless of the topic whether it is sports, electronic equipment, music or something different. This is also how rumors are spread because passionate people want to share and exchange information and therefore they buzz about perspectives, ideas etc.

The iPhone is an great example of how buzzing becomes a vital part of branding. FierceWireless has made a timeline of the iPhone, which shows that the earliest rumors were reported already in mid-December 1999 (FierceWireless, 2006), seven years before Steve Jobs announces the iPhone at Macworld on January 9th 2007 (Wildstrom, 2007). Furthermore by performing a Google search on the term “iPhone” prior to the year 2007 you will get about 454 million hits (Attachment 1 – iPhone). This goes to show that buzzing has created a great deal of marketing. In the case of the iPhone the effect was so great that it influenced the stock value of AI, which increased because of a rumor on December 5th 2006, a month before the iPhone was announced (Frommer, 2006, s. 1). Only days later the stock value of AI decreased again because it was rumored that AI would not be able to ship the iPhone immediately on the day of announcement (Dean, 2006). At this point AI had neither confirmed nor declined that they were going to announce the iPhone.

The interesting thing is that AI does not comment on speculations about upcoming products, though they do feed the rumor mill by their cryptic announcements as observed by the MacObserver (2002). However, according to Seb Janacek, AI does not need to comment as “it’s the power and impetus of rumour that drives and sustains interest in the company and its products among its faithful following.”(Janacek, 2004). When AI does not disclose information, Apple users discuss the next possible product based on buzzing, which starts the rumor mill.

1.2      Discussion on the impact of viral marketing as means to brand a product

If you search “Microsoft” using Google.com you will get almost 80 million hits (Attachment 2 – Microsoft) and if you search “Apple” you will get a little more than 77 million hits (Attachment 3 – Apple). According to Net Applications, Microsoft has a total market share of 92,52% whereas AI only has a market share of 5,12% (Attachment 4 – Net Application). In light of this evidence it is easily seen that there must be a lot of buzzing going on in the Apple community, when such a little community can generate so many hits.

In connection with the previously discussed studies, which show that AI has its own community of users, it is easier to understand how buzzing has come about through rumors. Belk & Tumbat found that AI users perceived Microsoft as a rival and as a company whose only mission was to make money, where AI was perceived more through its founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, as a company that made cool products. Furthermore, they found that Apple users had “feelings of persecution for their faith as well as the challenge of defending their minority loyalty in the face of the PC giants.”(Belk & Tumbat, 2005, s. 213). Because of these feelings and the perception that AI is doing something good, Apple users want to promote and support AI(Belk & Tumbat, 2005, s. 213).

In connection with the previous statements, people who perceive something as really good want to share their knowledge and experiences with others, especially those who have not yet had the fortunate experience(Ferguson, 2008, s. 181). This is true for Apple users too who wants to promote AI too sometimes despite problems with their product (Belk & Tumbat, 2005, s. 213).

Ferguson (2008, s. 179) studied trends like viral marketing in an attempt to determine whether or not it is possible to measure the effect of this. However, he found that even though it is hard to find evidence of retune of investment, viral marketing is able to start a snowball effect of buzzing that can produce immense return for the brand awareness(Ferguson, 2008, s. 179) as it has been the case with AI, where loyal users continue to buzz about AI and hereby promote its products.

2       Conclusion

As it has not been possible to find evidence that Apple Inc is deliberately using the Apple community for their viral marketing to start the buzzing about new products, the claim must be partially refuted. However, it is impossible to deny that whenever a MacWorld Expo is approaching buzzing across the Internet increases, which echoes in the stock value of Apple Inc.

Regarding the problem statement, it is only partly possible to say how Apple Inc create buzzing, however, when observed the buzzing starts prior to the time of a product announcement, and in this perspective it cannot be denied that viral marketing is effective and that the Apple community is responsible for the buzzing.

3        Bibliography

Apple Inc. (2007, 12 12). http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2007/. Retrieved 11 17, 2009, from Apple – Media & Analyst Info – Press Releases 2007: http://www.apple.com

Belk, R. W., & Tumbat, G. (2005). The Cult of Macintosh. In R. W. Belk, & G. Tumbat, Consumption Markets & Culture (Vol. 8, pp. 205-217). London, UK: Routledge.

Dean, K. (2006, 12 7). iPhone Rumor Gnaws at Apple. Retrieved 11 17, 2009, from TheStreet.com: http://www.thestreet.com/print/story/10326546.html

Ferguson, R. (2008). Word of mouth and viral marketing: taking the temperature of the hottest trends in marketing. The journal of consumer marketing : a quarterly journal for professional marketers , 25 (3), 179-182.

FierceWireless. (2006, 12 18). Timeline of Apple “iPhone” Rumors (1999-Present). Retrieved 11 17, 2009, from FierceWireless: http://www.fiercewireless.com/node/8234/

Frommer, D. (2006, 12 5). Apple’s iPhone Rising? Retrieved 11 17, 2009, from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/2006/12/05/apple-computer-iphone-markets-equity-cx_df_1205markets06_print.html

Janacek, S. (2004, 12 3). Apple, Google – and the power of rumour. (silicon.com) Retrieved 11 17, 2009, from Minority Report: http://hardware.silicon.com/desktops/0,39024645,39126271,00.htm

Lindström, M. (2008). How Apple, others have cultivated religious followings. Advertising Age , 79 (45), 16-17.

MacObserver. (2002, 1 1). Apple Ups The Ante, Invokes The Power Of Mac Rumor Sites In MWSF Hype. Retrieved 11 17, 2009, from The Mac Observer: http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/Apple_Ups_The_Ante_Invokes_The_Power_Of_Mac_Rumor_Sites_In_MWSF_Hype/

McCoy, C. (1995, 3 15). Apple Shares Slip 8.2% on Concerns About Sales, Rival. The Wall Street Journal , p. 8.

Vallerand, R. J. (2008). On the Psychology of Passion: In Search of What Makes People’s Lives Most Worth Living. Canaduan Psychology , 49 (1), 1-13.

Wildstrom, S. (2007, 1 12). An iPhone Reality Check. Retrieved 11 17, 2009, from BusinessWeek: http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/techbeat/archives/2007/01/an_iphone_reali_1.html

Willis, W. (2009, 4 3). Cultivating evangelism: It’s bigger than PR. Retrieved 11 17, 2009, from Bite Communications: http://www.bitecommunications.com/2009/04/03/cultivating-evangelism-it’s-bigger-than-pr/

4    List of Attachments

4.1         Attachment 1 – iPhone (retrived 7/12/2009)

4.2        Attachment 2 – Microsoft (retrieved 7/12/2009)

4.3        Attachment 3 – Apple (retrieved 7/12/2009)

4.4        Attachment 4 – Net Applications (retrieved 7/12/2009)


[1] Will be abbreviated AI in the rest of the Synopsis

[2] MacWorld Expo is an annual event that takes place in the beginning of January every year where AI participates Apple Inc. (2007)

[3] Will Willis use the phrase autonomous passion that correlates to harmonious passion, which is seen through this example: “Think of it as the kid that’s forced to learn piano growing up vs. the kid that wants to learn piano. Which one is more likely to stick with the piano throughout his or her life?” (Willis, 2009)

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