When mobile phone contracts regularly eclipse the life-span of fledgling relationships and the term ‘peak stuff’ is never far from social commentators lips; the success of the iPhone appears increasingly assured. Yet, while it is all too-tempting to declare the iPhone the ultimate triumph of modern branding, a status symbol for the digital age, the reality is more complex. For when you ask the question ‘What does your iPhone say about you?’ the answer is all-too-often ‘not a lot’.
What started life as a challenger brand is now ubiquitous; with some experts attributing its continuing success not to innovative branding but it’s ubiquity. As the brand has become increasingly popular users are increasingly invested in its platform, which has in effect become a digital comfort blanket. A success built upon familarity just as much as innovation.
Lore Oxford, behavioural analyst at Canvas 8, says: "The iPhone is testament to a culture of constant upgrade. People are resistant to change, but receptive to ‘better’ versions of what they already have. They’re not losing what they had (or having to change brand or technology) but instead adding to it."
In effect this is a state of play, when combined with seemingly ever-increasing contract lengths, makes consumers reluctant to change. As Ellie Gauci, executive strategy director of Psona explains; "Having synced all your iOS devices together, and backed up to iCloud, it’s actually quite a lot of effort and risk to ‘escape’ Apple".
The cult of the iPhone
With over 700 million iPhone users worldwide; analysing a typical iPhone user, (otherwise known as an iClone) is a significant challenge. While data suggests that iPhone users are 72% more likely than Android users to have a household income above £70,000 (see data from Viant below), the mass market appeal of the brand cannot be denied. Ownership has become a ‘coming of age’ moment for consumers. As Manfredi Ricca, chief strategy officer EMEA and Latin America at Interbrand, explains in many countries the threshold of independence for teenagers used to be a vehicle - a scooter, a motorcycle or even a car. He explains: "They could move. Today, the smartphone is what sets them free. They can share."
Canvas 8’s Oxford says that as traditional status symbols are falling out of favour among all ages of consumer, it makes sense that Apple, and other tech brands, are filling the void. "While iPads and triathlons have replaced the fast cars and office affairs of the media trope of the mid-life crisis, studies suggest Gen Yers enjoy shopping for technology more enjoyable than shopping for fine jewellery," she explains.
A shift she views as emblematic of an era in which conspicuous consumption has lost its appeal. In line with this the iPhone is a subtle signifier - not of wealth, but instead of a person’s willingness to invest in themselves. In effect the iPhone and products like it are sold on the basis they enable the owner to be their best selves - more productive, more secure and more creative.
Beri Cheetham, executive creative director at The Gate, believes that Apple and the iPhone belong in a category with Nike, Net-a-Porter, Beats, Rapha, even Graze. He explains: "Things that make a statement of style, belief and status. And, with fewer people having settled home lives, because they can’t afford their own home, this kind of statement is going to become ever more important."
Yet despite this status appeal; some argue the iPhone is in fact a social leveller. Antony Mayfield, founding partner and CEO of Brilliant Noise, draws an analogy with Andy Warhol’s assertion that "you can’t buy a better Coke." He explains: "Similarly you can’t buy a better iPhone - you might need to sign up for two year contract or take out a loan to pay for it, but your iPhone won’t be any better than the President’s."
In effect, he believes that the blank, black rectangles of smartphones are screens we can all project whatever self-image we want. He explains: "It is a universal device, issued by the billion in the same form - but you can use it discreetly, show off some giant rose gold version bling, or discreetly leave it lying on the table without a cover so your geeky friend can spot the 3mm difference in the bezel that marks it out as a 2017 version of the same design from last year." The technology brand that has successfully persuaded consumers investing in the latest model - is by extension investing in themselves - manages to be both ubiquitous and premium; a winning marketing formula.