Recently I finished reading an interesting book called “The 48 Laws of Power” by author Robert Greene. Among the “laws” introduced in the book, there’s one called Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following (Law 27), and oh boy did I have a good chuckle reading it. The resemblance between the description of how cults are created and everyone’s favorite premium tech firm, Apple Inc., was so uncanny that I just had to share it. Plus we’ve all seen enough of Cult of Apple references around the Internet to know that maybe there’s something more to this.
So here’s the five easy steps of creating a cult (of Apple), with hefty citations from the aforementioned book.
Step 1: Keep It Vague; Keep It Simple
“Your initial speeches, conversations, and interviews must include two elements: on the other hand the promise of something great and transformative, and the other a total vagueness. This combination will stimulate all kinds of hazy dreams in your listeners, who will make their own connections and see what they want to see.”
“…use words of great resonance but cloudy meaning, words full of heat and enthusiasm. Fancy titles for simple things are helpful, as are the use of numbers and the creation of new words for vague concepts.”
The whole first step screams of Apple. However, I must emphasize that way back in the day, Wozniak did create some amazing, truly unique and innovative things. But looking at the Apple we know today, this first step just hits the nail in the head.
How about those fancy titles then, eh? Apple is (in)famous for coming up with own brand names to the most mundane of things. Retina, MagSafe, iEverything, DSDS (or as others call it, dual SIM), the list goes on and on. Sure, other vendors do similar things as well, but with this type of naming, Apple has really managed to trick people into thinking that the company would’ve been inventing new things all the time. But have they really? Watch the video below to find out..
Step 2: Emphasize the Visual and the Sensual Over the Intellectual
“Surround yourself with luxury, dazzle your followers with visual splendor, fill their eyes with spectacle. Not only will this keep seeing the ridiculousness of your ideas, the holes in your belief system, it will also attract more attention, more followers.”
Apple’s WWDC gets sold out every year, the event being live covered in the press with meticulous detail. Product hashtags trend on Twitter for at least that full day. It’s a grandeur show, something that gets mentioned next day in a workplace’s break room as surely as the latest episode of Game of Thrones. People queue for days to be among the first to rush into the Apple
temples stores to get their hands on a new iPhone, each subsequent product release indeed a dazzling spectacle in their own right.
So impressive are the shows that if there’s something goofy or outright brainfarty in their products, that comes out way later, when people have actually used their products – and here’s the kicker – most fans either downplay those things or completely ignore them. The most notable exception to this rule happened probably in 2016, when Apple did a double whammy. First, they announced the removal of headphone jack from iPhone 7. They called it “courage”, most people called it stupid, but for a moment it seemed like other vendors might follow suite. Luckily that hasn’t yet happened. Second, they released their wireless earphones to go with this jackless phone, the AirPods. The headphones had a price tag of $159 and the looks of electronic toothbrush’s disposable heads. Needless to say, the Internet had a blast with them.
Step 3: Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion to Structure the Group
“…ask them [your followers] for sacrifices that will fill your coffers and increase your power. To emphasize your gathering’s quasi-religious nature, talk and act like a prophet.”
I’d argue that many saw Jobs as a prophet of sorts. Heck, even The Economist played with the idea. A social anthropologist from the University of
British Colombia Dr. Kirsten Bell has said that “during keynote speeches, each Apple executive addresses the audience to reawaken and renew their faith in the core message and tenets of the brand [or] religion”. This seems to be working, as a team of neuroscientists who did a MRI scan on one Apple fan’s brains discovered that “the Apple products are triggering the same bits of [the person’s] brain as religious imagery triggers in a person of faith”.
New York University professor Erica Robles-Anderson pointed out some pretty remarkable similarities between Apple Stores and actual holy spaces, such as churches or ancient ziggurats. She even compared the stores’ Geniuses to priests!
As for the sacrifices the book mentioned, I’d say purchasing a new $1000 phone every year is a sacrifice in itself.
Step 4: Disguise Your Source of Income
“Your coffers are beginning to fill with your followers’ money. Yet you must never been seen as hungry for money and the power it brings.”
This step and its applicability was not so obvious at first glance to me. However, I can think of two ways this manifests itself. First is of course the way Jobs used to dress – humble jeans and a black turtleneck are not the kind of clothes we’re used to see multi-billion dollar company CEO wearing on stage. Second, you can think anything you want of Apple, but I don’t recall “greedy” being a word often used to describe the company. Similarly as you wouldn’t call any luxury brand greedy, because they create products that cost a lot. Sure, that cost is not always reasonable (or justifiable) by any means, but still “hungry for money” doesn’t sound like Apple Inc.
Step 5: Set Up an Us-Versus-Them Dynamic
“First, make sure your followers believe they are part of an exclusive club, unified by common goals. The, to strengthen this bond, manufacture a notion of a devious enemy out to ruin you.
…Any outsider who tries to reveal the charlatan nature of your belief system can now be described as a member of this devious force.”
Again, several examples of this mechanic at play could be mentioned, but I think the legendary “Mac vs PC” ad series embodies this step the best:
By the way, one of the reasons I traveled to States years ago was to buy an iPod Nano, which was not yet available in Finland. And I do recognize that other brands have their own fan(atic)s as well – but let’s be honest, no tech company can rival Apple in this matter.
What do you think, is the Cult of Apple a real thing or not?