Turning Apple’s brand and products into a religion

A new book lays out how Steve Jobs transformed Apple into a religion:

Jobs’ Zen master Kobun Chino told him that he “could keep in touch with his spiritual side while running a business.” So in true Zen fashion, Jobs avoided thinking of technology and spirituality in dualistic terms. But what really set him apart was his ability to educate the public about personal computing in both practical and mythic ways.

The iconography of the Apple computer company, the advertisements, and the device screens of the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad are visual expressions of Jobs’ imaginative marriage of spiritual science and modern technology…

Technology ads provide parables and proverbs for navigating the complexities of the new technological order. They instruct the consumer on how to live the “good life” in the technological age…

Jobs embraced elliptical thinking as a means of promoting technology objects that pose their own paradoxes. In the Apple narrative, the seemingly oppositional notions of assimilation/isolation and freedom/enslavement are resolved by Apple’s invocation of enlightened paradox.

Others have also made this argument: see this 2011 post as well as this 2012 post.  Claiming a brand is like a religion could be an analysis of a secular age (this piece suggests we traded gods for technological progress and consumerism) or it could be a slam against followers who blindly follow a brand (certain brands may inspire higher levels of devotion yet not all inspiring brands are accused of inspiring religious-like followings).

Yet, beyond Apple, wouldn’t most, if not all brands, aspire to this kind of devotion? Religion implies a devoted set of followers who are willing to participate in rituals, of which the most important is buying the new product. Evangelism, telling others about the products and brand, might also be high on this list. Another key is that brand followers and users think they are participating in a transcendent experience.

Using suburban homes for film shoots

The Daily Herald describes what happens when suburban homes are chosen for film shoots:

Directors of Hollywood movies, TV shows, commercials and national print ads regularly use suburban homes as locations for filming and photo shoots. Just a few weeks ago, scenes from the movie “Precious Mettle,” starring Paul Sorvino and Fiona Dourif, were shot at homes in Naperville and Aurora…They will add the photos to their online database and show them to prospective directors. Because they have thousands of homes in their database, the odds of being chosen are slim. But you never know what a director is looking for, and there’s growing demand for suburban-styled homes, said longtime location scout Oryna Schiffman, based in Elmhurst.

“Since the recession started, I’ve been getting less and less requests for your typical North Shore mansions. They say, ‘I want real people who live in real houses,'” said Schiffman, who accepts photos at oryna@me.com. “You never know what they’re going to ask for next.”…

However, there is a downside to offering up your home. Filming and photo shoots can disrupt your routine, your sleep, and possibly your neighborhood. Movie crews, especially, tend to completely take over an area with trailers and equipment. Homeowners usually get short notice about the shoots and need to hastily sign off on the legal paperwork.

While most film crews are respectful of people’s property (and often contractually obligated to return it to its original condition), paint sometimes gets chipped and things get broken or banged up. That’s why it’s important to get things in writing before the filming begins.

Of course, the article starts with a story of a family who was paid $12,000 for giving up their home for six days for a print advertisement shoot. There may be quite a few suburbanites who would relish such an opportunity.

The quote that directors are looking for “real homes” is interesting. The suggestion here is that with tighter economic times, people want to see more normal homes while during more economic prosperous times people like seeing bigger homes. When they arrive at a home, how much do they take the home as is or they change it up to suit their filming needs? Plus, how often is the tone of the commercial, TV show, film, or advertisement that the suburban home needs improving or there is something to critique? On one hand, there are a lot of critics of suburban tract homes but they are apparently useful for marketing and some artistic purposes.

Rahm Emanuel fires back at Texas Governor Rick Perry

Texas Governor Rick Perry tried to entice Illinois businesses to Texas with recent radio spots but Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired back yesterday:

Emanuel made pointed reference to a campaign gaffe Perry committed while running for president. At a Republican debate late in 2011, Perry said he had plans to eliminate three federal departments, but could remember only two.

Asked about Perry’s visit at a Monday news conference, Emanuel used the opportunity to tout Chicago’s infrastructure improvements and wealth of well-educated residents thanks to its universities, both of which he said were lacking in Texas.

He pointed to the 14 major businesses that have moved their headquarters to Chicago during his administration, and also drew attention to Texas’ drought.

“In the City of Chicago, we don’t have to measure our showers like they do in Texas,” said Emanuel, a Democrat who served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff…

After a similar effort earlier this year in California, that state’s governor, Jerry Brown, called Perry’s $26,000 ad buy there “not a burp…it’s barely a fart.”

“If they want to get in the game, let them spend $25 million on radio and television,” said Brown, according to the Sacramento Bee.  “Then I’ll take them seriously.”

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn lashed back at Perry last week, telling reporters “We don’t need any advice from Gov. Perry.”

If Perry’s main goal was to draw the fire of Democratic leaders, he seems to have succeeded. I’ve seen some experts suggest ads like those Perry was in do little to attract businesses. At the same time, they might help insert Texas into conversations in a way that often don’t happen in the Chicago area.

It is interesting to note Emanuel’s defense: Chicago has well-educated residents and well-regarded colleges (the University of Chicago and Northwestern are a pretty good pair), has plenty of corporate headquarters, has spent on infrastructure, and don’t have droughts (but apparently does have flooding). Is this the best case for Chicago? I could imagine adding Chicago’s standing as a global city, transportation advantages, central location in the United States, continued leadership in commodity trading, beautiful parks along Lake Michigan, tourism, and well-developed metropolitan region.

By the way, it is fair to compare a state to a city or region? Sure, Chicago may be the center of Illinois life but there still is the rest of the state that may take exception (and vote with Perry to boot).

Paris’ transit authority has new campaign asking local residents to be less rude

The transit authority in Paris has a new campaign aimed at getting users to show more etiquette:

Likening Parisians to animals, it shows a variety of them horrifying onlookers with their selfish behaviour.

A hen is shown screaming into a mobile phone while sitting on a packed bus, a buffalo shoves his way on to a commuter train, and other shameless beasts are shown annoying people…

Sociologist Julien Damon, who helped carry out the RATP survey, said: ‘These types of bad behaviour have always existed, but what has changed is that we are less prepared to tolerate them.

‘Our behaviour is more and more geared towards cleanliness and hygiene, like spitting on the ground or smoking in a restaurant now both very frowned upon, and less about common courtesies like simply being polite and nice to each other.’…

The study comes two years after a separate survey of foreigners visiting Paris voted them the rudest people in Europe...

Cecile Ernst, French author of the sociological and etiquette essay ‘Bonjour Madame, Merci Monsieur’ argues that the shockingly loutish behaviour of France’s football team during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when the players went on strike, was a symptom of a broader social trend.

Two quick thoughts:

1. This seems to be motivated in part by perceptions of tourists. Since Paris is one of the top tourist destinations in the world, this is no small matter.

2. I wonder how successful this campaign will be as it utilizes shame and guilt. The posters shown here basically suggest that some current riders are acting like animals. Could a more positive campaign be more effective or would it not attract people’s attention effectively? Imagine if ads like these went up in a major US city…

Why promote education and reading with stars who make lots of money?

As a kid, I remember seeing posters of Michael Jordan (see here) and other star athletes promoting reading. While watching NBA playoff games currently, you can see plenty of NBA Cares advertisements with NBA stars talking about the importance of school. But, amidst seeing several stories that 13-year NBA player Shareef Abdur-Rahim went back to UC-Berkeley to finish his undergraduate degree in sociology, why do these campaigns feature athletic stars and not feature athletes who thought they had a chance to be a star but then realized they needed their academic degree for the rest of their lives? For example, such campaigns could feature a college star who tried to make it in the pros but had a short career, didn’t make much money or got injured early on, and then realized that he needed his academic degree to work the rest of his adult life. Or going further, perhaps non-athletes with decent adult lives could promote the value of a degree. Or athletes could talk about or promote the valuable contributions to society made by people with high school and college degrees. Either way, the star who makes a lot of money, a dream a lot of kids hold but few can attain, doesn’t end up as the primary spokesperson for education.

(I assume that these reading and education campaigns have some data or studies that show using celebrities is the best way to reach children. However, perhaps this strategy of using celebrities doesn’t work, just as using celebrities to promote organ donations isn’t the only factor that increases donation rates. See the book Last Book Gifts.)


Moms in TV advertisements buy products for the good of their families

Two sociologists argue that a majority of mothers in TV commercials buy products for the good of their children:

Nearly two-thirds of mothers featured in ads on prime time Canadian television are “intensive” moms who buy products solely for the good of the family, while non-mothers were more likely to be portrayed as independent free agents, enjoying themselves far more, a new analysis has found.

The lion’s share of mothers were shown to be “organized, informative and in control,” and always purchasing the product for the benefit of their children, according to University of Toronto sociology researchers Kim de Laat and Shyon Baumann, who combed through 68 television ads…

But Ms. de Laat and Mr. Baumann say the advertising they studied is promoting “sacrificial consumption” — a term they coined to describe the act of buying products primarily for the care of others, rather than for self-care.

“It’s only been within the past 20 to 25 years that we’ve seen increasing emphasis solely on the children to the point where women are supposed to derive satisfaction from all of this caregiving,” said Ms. de Laat, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto.

“Sacrificial consumption” is an interesting phrase but it isn’t a new idea. I’m reminded of the research of Viviana Zelizer (in Morals & Markets) regarding how the once controversial product life insurance came to be viewed as a necessary and sacrificial product that would provide for one’s family. What might be new here is the idea that these commercials are tying motherhood, a social role, to a particular action, providing for children. It attaches a different idea to products: if you’re family needs the product or would at least benefit, whatever money that needs to be spent is well-spent. Being a good mother means buying the “needed” products, not necessarily providing love, support, time, or attention. Do these commercials work by guilting people into action (i.e, “I’m not a good mother unless I do this”)? I wonder how this ties in with the whole idea of “concerted cultivation” where middle- and upper-class parents look to give their kids advantages (including necessary products?).

Is sacrificial consumption used effectively to sell products to other groups? Can you imagine such marketing aimed at men/fathers?

Urban Decay cosmetics

As an urban sociologist, I am always interested to examine popular depictions of cities and suburbs. So I was intrigued when I found this advertisement for Urban Decay in the Sunday newspaper:

According to the ad, this line of cosmetics includes products like “Sin Eyeshadow Primer Potion” and “All Nighter Makeup Setting Spray.”

Here is the story of Urban Decay:

Our story opens 15 years ago, when pink, red, and beige enslaved the prestige beauty market. Heaven forbid you wanted purple or green nails, because you’d either have to whip out a marker, or risk life and limb with that back alley drugstore junk. Flying in the face of this monopoly, Sandy Lerner (cofounder of Cisco Systems) made a bold decision: if the cosmetic industry’s “big boys” couldn’t satisfy her alternative makeup tastes, she’d satisfy them herself.

Fatefully, Sandy’s business manager, David Soward, introduced her to fellow visionary Wende Zomnir. A creative businesswoman (and makeup addict almost since birth), Wende also recognized the color void and determined a shake-up was in order. Over high tea, the two forged a pact that led to renegade nail polish mixing sessions in Wende’s Laguna Beach bungalow. Sandy, David and Wende unleashed Urban Decay in January of 1996 with a line of 10 lipsticks and 12 nail enamels. Inspired by seedier facets of the urban landscape, they bore groundbreaking names like Roach, Smog, Rust, Oil Slick and Acid Rain. The first magazine ad queried “Does Pink Make You Puke?,” fueling the revolution as cosmetics industry executives scrambled to keep up…

Our ever-expanding global presence proves what Wende and Sandy always knew – makeup wearers everywhere crave alternatives, hence our longevity well past the death of 90s grunge. In the US, hundreds of UD products now fill purple shelves at Sephora, Ulta and Macy’s, as well as the virtual pages of Beauty.com. Growing numbers of retailers in Canada, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Singapore and the Middle East stock our line, too. And although UD fans around the world might approach our products in wildly different ways, we’ve noticed they share an independent spirit that unites them…

We’ve now become the largest independently owned color cosmetic company in the United States. Our moms are proud. “Urban Decay” is no longer such a crazy name for a makeup company. And young women today have never known a world where they couldn’t get purple nail polish over the counter. Mission accomplished.

What is interesting to me is the commodification of a particular location and style. The name brings back images from the mid-twentieth century as many Americans fled large cities for the cleaner, greener, and safer suburbs. Governments responded by clearing urban blight and instituting programs of urban renewal. Today, urban decay is more fashionable. It seems gritty and authentic – see the passages above about the banality of pink and how darker colors subvert these ideas. It brings to mind ideas of adventure, being a renegade, standing out from the crowd. Perhaps it is tied to ideas of gentrification and finding the exciting yet improving parts of cities. Think of places like Times Square that just a few decades ago were seedy locations and even with the glitz and glamor of today still retain some of this urban excitement that simply can’t be replicated in the shopping mall or on Facebook. And, of course, you can have all of these ideas if you are simply willing to spend a little money on a line of cosmetics.

Is there a suburban alternative to this, something like Suburban Passion or Desperate Suburbs?