When a company projects synthetically sentimental images on billboards to sell its products, most sensitive consumers wince — if they pay attention at all. Fake emotional appeals rank as possibly the most offensive marketing tactic around, although there are exceptions.
But these failures are valiant attempts to capture and bottle the allure of the emotional connection – that ineffable tie to an object or brand that becomes more than just a preference – it’s a love affair.
Romantic relationships can be brief and intense. Or, they can be lasting love affairs. The same can be said of relationships between organizations and the hearts of the public. What they all have in common is a narrative arc.
“How did you meet?” Few enthusiastic couples turn down a chance to recount their love’s genesis. The juicier the story, the stronger the relationship; the narrative becomes the sacred path of destiny two hopeful lovers tread. Attachment to the story of a relationship can grow so strong as to outshine feelings for the partner themself.
The hyper-romantic, rain-soaked desperation of The Notebook’s heroes shames those of us who were united by the match.com algorithm. Images like Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Times Square kiss sum up the feeling of total abandon in the face of that transcendent power of romance.
It’s a phenomenon that is succinctly, but not easily, conveyed in an image or a myth. It’s no wonder companies try to cash in on it. But how can a business successfully evoke amorous feelings – or any feelings – if its product is a practical electronic device housed in a plastic case?
A loyal Apple user may recall the sense of pride and superiority he felt walking into Starbucks for the first time with a MacBook on his arm. He knew he had the hottest product on the market. Why? How did Apple convince this guy and millions more that their gadgets are the cheerleaders rather than the nerds?
In Apple’s case, an elegant, polished image and a hard-to-get price tag elevated the brand to supermodel status. Do character and substance matter when your public image is so perfectly managed? Not really, according to marketing author, Marc Gobe.
Apple’s intense marketing of its products – or healthy communication, if we’re talking relationships – has paid off in spades. But what did Apple lend to the narrative its customers have experienced that they didn’t construct on their own?
As we see in the resignation of Steve Jobs, the face of the company meant a great deal. Jobs was a charismatic, impassioned nerd in a black turtleneck who gave us products we didn’t know we needed. He was like the knight in shining armor who took it off because it was too pretentious. So, with Jobs gone, hopefully living his life to the fullest, what is the next chapter in the saga? Does the end of Jobs’ tenure mean the end of Apple? Or is this just a twist in the plot?
It’s Apple’s job, sans Jobs, to continue to write itself into the love lives of its consumers. The positive spin for Apple is that its hero left the scene on top with a tragic and endearing story that may yield the kind of reverent widow’s love that endures a lifetime.