By Daniel Baylis [Director of Content, N/A Inc.]
The new iPhone has arrived. And those who worship at the altar of Apple are salivating. The phone has a lighter-weight design. The larger screen makes room for another row of icons. The battery is better. The camera is more… well… camera-ish. Oh, rejoice!
Wait – what are we rejoicing again?
When we stop to think about how deeply Apple has penetrated our lives, one can’t help but be mesmerized. In a culture where we really don’t necessarily want to be caught sporting the same products as everyone else – designer blue jeans, new cars, fresh haircuts – there seems to be an overwhelming monopoly in our communication devices. Whether individually we like it or not, the iPhone reigns triumphant.
And Apple doesn’t simply own the mobile telephone market; they also dominate the corporate world. According to recent financial reports, Apple, with a net value of more than $622-billion, has become the most expensive public company of all time. In colloquial terms, Apple is filthy rich. The story of the brand is certainly one of complexity and intricacy, and has included periods of instability and downright product embarrassment. Yet at this moment, more so than at any point in their history, Apple is at the top of the world.
Is that what we’re rejoicing?
Indeed, Apple has successfully wedged themselves into the palms (and wallets) of millions of people. But where do they exist in the hearts of the consumers of technology? Apart from the crazy gaggle of people who are willing to line up for their new gizmos, who really “loves” Apple? And what does Apple, as a brand, actually stand for? Commitment to social change? Pledge to environmental sustainability? Commitment to labor ethics at levels of their production line? Yes, Apple is rich. And being rich is cool. But money can’t buy you love.
Apple desperately needs some love in its brand trust and identity. Steve Jobs got rid of the love – also known as philanthropic service – in 1997, arguing that doing good equals being good. And apart from a meager Employee Matching program instated last year and a bit of product discount to educational institutions, we have yet to see any real commitment to any type of cause or philanthropic engagement. This refusal to be involved in greater social and ecological environments echoes the detached sentiments of American economist Milton Friedman, “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” In other words, businesses should just make a crap load of money and shut up. But Friedman was a product of 1970s corporate America. And this is 2012.
Times have changed.
Apple supporters will defend the brand. They’ll state that the bulk of its contributions to society may reside in the quality and innovation of the products. Apple is simply making the world better through great design. Yet whenever I am presented with this jargon on “innovative contribution” to society, all I hear is the teacher’s voice from Charlie Brown. Whaa-whaa-whaa.
I don’t want to hear any more excuses — it’s time to place cause at the core of business.
Other leading tech-centred brands are turning profits and making tangible commitments to the greater world. For instance, Google not only has started an entire philanthropic foundation, but has also taken a stance on marriage equity. General Electric has a created an entire institute (ecomagination) to build innovative solutions to today’s environmental challenges.
Apple’s contemporaries seem to simply care more. But do you know who else cares? Consumers. According to a recent study, 86 percent of consumers want companies to place at least equal emphasis on their social interests as on their business interests. Love (and brand loyalty) is earned through caring.
There are two hypotheses around Apple’s reticent approach to addressing social issues: 1) They actually are making silent donations and are far too humble to boast about public philanthropy, or 2) They do not see a tangible business advantage in addressing real social issues (N.B. pretty electronic devices don’t count). I have a hunch that hypothesis number two is the winner. And it’s a shame. Because the competitors are nipping at their heals, and only so many lawsuits will be able to keep them at bay. Having a bit more heart would win Apple public favor.
Apple has become the richest kid on the block. That’s fine. You guys are rich and you are pretty. And there will remain a gaggle of folks who continue to worship at the altar of Apple. But to what exactly are they worshiping?
Apple, where’s your soul?