Let’s get Metaphysical: Steve Jobs on brand marketing

It’s hard to argue convincingly against qualities that can’t be measured. That’s why Apple doesn’t talk about processor speeds, and Nike doesn’t talk about shoes. Instead both companies make reference to metaphysical elements in order to boost their brands.

In this video from 1997, just after he returned to Apple, Steve Jobs talks about improving Apple’s brand. Some telling quotes:

The way to do that is not to talk about speeds and fees, it’s not to talk about bits and megahertz, it’s not to talk about why we are better than Windows. The dairy industry tried for 20 years to convince you that milk was good for you … and then they tried “got milk” and the sales went up. Got Milk wasn’t even talking about the product. In fact, it focuses on the absence of the product. But the best example of all, and one of the greatest jobs of marketing that the universe has ever seen is Nike. Remember, Nike sells a commodity. They sell shoes! And yet when you think of Nike, you feel something different than a shoe company. In their ads, as you know, they don’t ever talk about their product. … They honor great athletes and they honor great athletics. That’s who they are, that’s what they are about.

In each case, the point being made is metaphysical (beyond physical comparison), so it’s hard to refute and affects people on an emotional rather than a purely logical level.

Jobs’ introduction to the “Think Different/Crazy Ones” ad campaign clearly explains how he intends this metaphysical approach to work for the brand and for the company. In it, he hits many of the points I make in the Metaphysical Arguments pattern. The ad campaign co-opts many charismatic and believable celebrities, pushes against establishment thinking, makes unprovable and emotional claims, and makes viewers feel that if they themselves feel “different,” then maybe an Apple computer products are right for them.

The combined efforts of Steve Jobs and the Chiat/Day advertising agency created a pretty much unassailable metaphysical boost for Apple’s brand. Rather than fighting its competitors using the existing rules of engagement, Apple completely changed the battleground. This campaign was probably a major contributing factor to Apple’s subsequent turn-around and success.