Rotten Apple: Brainwashing in a black turtleneck

rotten_apple_smIt's been a "best of times, worst of times" year for Apple.  There's no denying the swell they're seeing from the iPhone, new iPods, and a new release of OSX.  Apple stock looks pretty golden in a fragile market.

And yet, if you're paying attention, there are some cracks in the facade.  One by one, people are starting to notice the little problems that other companies get crucified for.

Early examples were problems with iPhone activation, phone bills, and firmware updates.  Recent examples:

  • Fear and Loathing Is Not A Great Brand Image
  • Update: More Leopard Problems Plague Apple
  • A true story about my Mac
  • And finally, me.  A few weeks ago, I lost a hard drive.  I have a backup of all of my important stuff, but I didn't have a backup of this drive, because it contains stuff I can generally replicate from other sources.  This drive had my iTunes music on it, which I could generally reproduce by re-ripping all of my CDs, or (I thought) just plugging my damned iPod back in to my computer.  I was wrong on that last count.  I plugged my iPod back in after I rebuilt my PC, and iTunes said, "I need to purge this foreign content -- everything must go!"  I literally couldn't sync my iPod again until I wiped it and reloaded my music.  On top of everything else, I also lost all my song rankings, so I've got to "re-train" my iPod to know the music I like most.

So what?  Lots of companies have problems like this.  They work through them, and the move on.  Why would Apple be any different?

Apple's different because they convinced us that they're better.

In late September, Robert Scoble posted when some people's iPhones were bricked during an updateI blogged a response back then, and I left a comment explaining why people were more upset about these problems with an Apple product than they'd be with someone else's product:

But Apple?s supposed to be better than Microsoft. That?s their hook.


Let?s face it - an important part of the Apple mystique is the experience. Stuff just *works* when it?s from Apple, right? When people start to question that image, it?s a blow to the brand.

I suspect this isn't something that Scoble didn't already know, but I'll take credit for planting a seed, because he came back and hit this topic again this week (The brand promise of Apple).  Here, Robert starts to look at a new facet of this dynamic: Apple users love Apple so much that they'd sooner believe they're idiots than to think that Apple's done something wrong.


If there ever was any question about the marketing prowess of Jobs, this should put that to rest.  This is really good stuff.  Since the very first marketing consultant crawled out of the primeval soup and began surveying dentists, this is the holy grail they've sought.  It's lightning in a bottle, and it's the engine that drives Apple.

A handful of brands have achieved a measure of this success over the years.  Saturn was there when they first hit the scene, and to a lesser degree, the new Beetle.  When you hear about kids beating other kids to steal a pair of shoes, this elixir is at work.

When it happens, it makes people a little nuts.

And so it is with Apple.  People see only good, and look past the rotten, let alone evil.  When iTunes refuses to recover my music, or even my song ratings -- content that I generated on their hardware -- I'm not supposed to feel angry or alienated or betrayed.  I'm supposed to subserviently ask for forgiveness on behalf of my ill-behaved PC.  I had it coming for running Windows, anyway, right?

As soon as people start to question the infallibility of Jobs, Inc., the whole brand begins to look vulnerable.  This is a fragile ecosystem, and it's dangerously close to meltdown.

How do you feel about Saturns today?

Don't think that I'm writing this because I hate Apple.  On the contrary, I think the magic they've shown us over the last five years or so is the stuff legends are made of.  Very, very few of us will ever have a chance to achieve anything like the run Apple's had recently, so I believe we've all got a lot to learn from them.  Among the things we can learn, though, is how tough it is to do what they've done, and how quickly it can be lost if you're not careful.

For another great analysis on this balance, check out this article: Apple: What Could Go Wrong

11 Replies to “Rotten Apple: Brainwashing in a black turtleneck”

  1. please consider all theseplease consider all these problems within the context of the Apple product launches for the whole year. My question to the author is that: have other companies had full spectra of product launch for the whole year without similar problems like Apple has. I would give Apple 9 out of 10 for its performance so far, if not higher.

  2. Hey Bert,
    Apple is the theHey Bert,

    Apple is the the target again as usual and even more so now that they are gaining market share.

    Your blog doesn’t carry much in the way of substance to validate your perception of Apple, it’s products and Steve Jobs.

    I have been using Apple products for the last 20 years to set the record.

    I don’t consider myself to be a fanboy, but, a consumer that like products that work and work the way that they are advertised.

    Let’s look at the iPhone. Apple’s end user agreement and ATT’s contract outline exactly what you can do with the iPhone. No if ands or butts. Reason? Well if you open up the device to customization or API’s, what is the first thing that happens? You phone dies and then what? You know, customers whining that their phone doesn’work on xyz phone network, blah, blah, blah. Because their son’s friend said I can get your phone to work on the xyz phone network. It is called proprietary.

    Look at your pool, you can only get company specific part for your pool pump. end of story you get the point.

    As for gripes with Leopard?

    BAck up, Back up, Back up! Everyone knows back your crap up. It you’re not technically inclined, get a professional to do the install.

    Far to many self acclaimed blogger, Apple, Mac addict out there who claims to know how to do, it full of crap.

    Leopard is a new cat, no pun, and for all those “GURUs” who just go into the install process, clicking, not reading promts, no backups, shame on you. You all know better than that and then to complain!?!?! WTF.

    Shame on you all!!!!

    Now for you to put Steve Jobs in your sights…


    Let’s look at the innovation going on here. OSX is a superior operating system. XP, Vista go even come close. Read all the reports.

    Look at the iPhone, iTouch iPod, Nanos. You are completely of base.

    Apple Products doe work the way they are supposed to. But don’t think that you can’t use them with a little brain power.

    It is a computer, OS, Music system. Come on you come off as a MS fanboy to say the least.

    For those of you all with problems, go the a Apple Store’s Genius bar and they are happy to help fix your problem.

    Get that from Dell, HP, Gateway, or MS.

    Merry Christmas all.

  3. Dennis –
    Thanks for theDennis –

    Thanks for the great observations.

    There’s no question that any problems Apple’s experiencing are well within the scope of “normal” technology problems.

    My point, though, was that Apple promotes the perception that they’re above the problems that so many other technology vendors face, so that when Apple does have some problems, it’s remarkable.

    Furthermore, if users start to realize that Apple is subjust to some of the same problems as other companies, Apple loses a valuable marketing asset.

  4. Bert,
    I have toBert,

    I have to disagree.

    Where has Apple stated or promoted the perception that their above problems?

    If you look at current marketing ventures, Mac and PC guys, the ads in a kind fashion show the inherent problems that Windows, be it Vista, have certain problems and major issues that have been noted also by Microsoft.

    No where do you hear Mac claim that Apple computer have no problems. For the most part, Mac kindly show applications, and what you can do on a Apple computer.

    Go to the Apple website and view the ads.

    In fact I have a rather complete collection of all the Apple ads created and no where does Apple ever claim to have no problems. And having watch just about every Keynote that Steve Jobs does, he has never claimed to have a operating system that is perfect. Close too, but not perfect.

    I find and as I have mentioned, that there are many blogger, with big fingers and small minds, and not you, who like to complain about Leopard and I find that the majority of the gripes are for those whom thought that they could simply push the OK button and their computer would be updated and loaded with Leopard and not a thing to do.

    When I updated, I found it to be a bit overwhelming and the reason, I knew that with a completely new OS I had to backup my data to make double sure that I didn’t have any loss or file corruption.

    With that, all the drivers were there, connection to the net a breeze , and everything worked. But, Birt, I took the time to do it right and read prompts and really think about what I have and what I was doing.

    Thanks for your kind debate. It is refreshing.

    Have a Merry Christmas

  5. I have no doubt at all thatI have no doubt at all that Apple will make those phones good again. The damage for Apple is that the customers whose upgrades don’t go well maybe to the point of having to get help from Apple to fix their phones are having a product experience that’s no longer head and shoulders above all the other consumer electronics devices out there.

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