An excellent article by Forbes explains how Apple built a loyal, energized customer base: they defined themselves by defining their competitors.

Of course, distinctive design, original products, a great user experience and other product attributes were all key drivers of loyalty, but Roger Dooley, the author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing, points out that one of Apple’s marketing coups was “creating an enemy, the PC and its users.”

Social Identity Theory

According to the social identity theory developed by social psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner, one’s self image is defined in part by the social group or groups one considers oneself part of. Tajfel’s experiments found that placing people into one or another group by such meaningless criteria as a coin toss was enough to make group members increasingly loyal to their own group and cause them to discriminate against the members of the other group.

The effect is used extensively in politics, of course. But Apple used it to attacked the competition in a brilliant way: rather than attack competitors on the basis of product characteristics, they attacked the PC users themselves, drawing a sharp distinction between Mac users and PC users.

The “1984” Introduction of the Mac

The 1984 ad that introduced the Apple Macintosh personal computer, conceived by Steve Hayden, Brent Thomas and Lee Clow at Chiat/Day,Venice, and directed by Ridley Scott is judged to be one of the most iconic ads ever produced. It was televised  only twice: on January 22, 1984 during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII, and in December 1983 right before the 1:00 am sign-off on KMVT in Twin Falls, Idaho, so that the advertisement could be submitted to award ceremonies for that year. Starting on January 17, 1984 it was screened prior to previews in movie theaters for a few weeks.

In one interpretation of the commercial, “1984” used the  heroine to represent the coming of the Macintosh  as a means of saving humanity from the conformity of Big Brother) in an allusion to George Orwell‘s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. According to Wikipedia:

Originally a subject of contention within Apple, it has nevertheless consistently been lauded as a classic, winning critical acclaim over time. It is now considered a watershed event and a masterpiece in advertising, and is widely regarded as one of the most memorable and successful American television commercials of all time.

Mac vs. PC

Presenting PC users as mindless drones became a less viable strategy once most of the market had a computer, of course. To avoid insulting their potential customers, Apple subsequently adopted a softer approach with a “Get a Mac” campaign from 2006 to 2009, featured in Ad Week here.

The “PC” was portrayed by a stiff  John Hodgman as a bumbling nerd in a suit, contrasted against Justin Long’s casual, cool “Mac.” Each of the 66 spots called attention  to an area where the PC had issues, such as computer viruses, long boot times, and occasional crashes. The innovation was to focus on traditional features and benefits while still sublimating them to the issue of social identity. 

Consistant Template: The Get a Mac campaign created by advertising agency TBWA\Media Arts Lab and directed by Phil Morrison, become easily recognizable because the ads all follows a standard simple template: against a minimalist all-white background, a man dressed in casual clothes introduces himself as a Mac (“Hello, I’m a Mac.”), while a man in a more formal suit-and-tie combination introduces himself as a Windows personal computer (“And I’m a PC.”). The two then act out a brief vignette in which the capabilities and attributes of Mac and PC are compared.

The campaign also coincided with a change of signage and employee apparel at Apple retail stores detailing reasons to switch to Macs.

Cultural Adaptations: American produced ads also air on Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand television, and at least 24 of them were dubbed into Spanish, French, German, and Italian.

Although several of the British and Japanese ads originated in the American campaign, they are generally slightly altered to suit local sensibilities. The British campaign stars comedic duo Robert Webb as Mac and David Mitchell as PC while the Japanese campaign features the comedic duo Rahmens and feature several original ads not seen in the American campaign.

The Get a Mac campaign received the Grand Effie Award in 2007.

T-Mobile Takes a Shot At the iPhone

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. T-Mobile cloned the Apple formula with it’s ads hitting the iphone, AT&T & Verizon to distinguish itself as the largest 4G network.

This time the hip, casual young user was a more gender-inclusive Carly, a bubbly spokeswoman in a pink sundress shown against the same white backdrop and contrasted to 3 virtually indistinguishable suited men.  Since her debut promoting T-Mobile’s myTouch 4G in 2010, Carly Foulkes —  “the T-Mobile girl” — became one of the most recognizable spokespeople in advertising. In addition to the female-friendly branding, the pink sundress is consistent with T-Mobile’s pink-themed retail stores.

“No More Mr. Nice Girl”

Recently, Carly traded in her pink sundress for a black leather with pink trim look and an ultra-fast Ducati superbike to focus more on the speeds of its 4G network.  As she climbs onto the bike and puts on her helmet, the words “No More Mr. Nice Girl” flash across the screen. The commercial spends the next 15 seconds dedicated to video of Foulkes speeding through city streets. “It’s time to set the record straight,” the ad states. “Test drive America’s largest 4G network.” T-Mobile’s commercial depicts a 180-degree shift away from Foulkes’ former girl-next-door persona, with a complete lack of dialog and skintight suit. The new commercial’s “dark” motif also stands in stark contrast to the traditional female-friendly branding.

The new angle,  the product of ad agency Publicis Seattle, which the company is called an “Alter Ego” approach is featured as a bigger part of the company’s greater rebranding efforts. Peter DeLuca, T-Mobile’s SVP for brand, advertising and communications, said that:

[the ad is about]challenging the status quo and taking bold steps in the marketplace as a challenger brand. The makeover from the girl-next-door to an edgier, more tech-savvy and spirited Carly is synonymous with the evolution of the T-Mobile brand.

Broadening the Gender Appeal

T-Mobile had received some flak for its magenta-focused theme being too girly and appears to have made a switch to the more familiar “sex sells” strategy consistent with the race models at technology trade shows dressed in tight or skimpy clothing to appeal to the male-dominated tech industry and bring more men on board. Brad Scott, senior director at branding firm Landor Associates says:

“I think they’re trying to universally appeal to the people looking for performance, whether that’s going to appeal more to men or not. Does the image make it more sexy, more evocative? Does it grab your attention? I think so.

Wired’s Alexandra Chang agrees:

While T-Mobile’s ad certainly has sex appeal, it doesn’t target any gender in particular. While watching the ad, I could see how tech-savvy women would find Foulkes’ new edge especially attractive. It depicts a confident woman who’s ready to stand up to a tech challenge — and you don’t see that much in advertising. The gender-bending “No More Mr. Nice Girl” slogan makes the ad even more inclusive.

The challenge for T-Mobile is to leverage this ad campaign with its upcoming brand relaunch and $4 billion investment in network infrastructure,  to convince consumers that T-Mobile, which has been relegated as a second-tier brand, is in fact a premium network. The company is also running a parallel “Test Drive” site, which will feature videos of T-Mobile devices tested against other carrier devices.

Use in Financial Services

Progressive adopts obvious elements of the Mac vs. PC formula in its Flo commercials with their stark white background, and the contrasting of the affable Flo (actress Stephanie Courtney) against two stereotypically stiff, suited, bumbling “pants on fire” lying auto insurance salesmen.

Charles Schwab’s Talk to Chuck campaign has also adopted the principle. It used retroscoping to simplify the image while featuring angry investors – the ones who are most likely to switch – complaining about brokers who are talking about abstract concepts like “a vineyard” instead of giving them “straight talk.” These ads coopted customer sentiment to draw a sharp distinction between Charles Schwab’s straight talking discount services and smooth talking traditional financial planners.

The Euro RSCG New York campaign coopting the frustration of fed-up investors who are the customers most likely to be lured from  competitors successfully tapped their resentment. As of September, 2006, Schwab was number 1 in consideration, up from third, for the first time since 1978, 7% higher than the nearest competitor. Creative recall and persuasion for print and TV were also number one. New assets were up 36% over the prior year.

The campaign won numerous industry awards. In 2007, it won the Grand Ogilvy Award in the ARF David Ogilvy Awards. Schwab was cited as “the best of the best” for successfully utilizing research to produce an ad campaign that achieves exceptional business results.

Build a Tribe, Build a Brand

As Seth Godin says in Tribe Management,

What people really want is the ability to connect to each other, not to companies. People form tribes with or without us. The challenge is to work for the tribe and make it something even better.

As Roger Dooley points out, building a social identity is about making your customers feel different than the people who use a competing brand, and he points out that Apple’s use of pre-existing stereotypes of Mac and PC users was brilliant:

Even though these stereotypes may not have been accurate, their existence made Apple’s job easier.