Apple, Marketing, and Black Culture

I watched a few videos of MLK yesterday before going to bed yesterday, on MLK day. They were queued up in my email and social feeds. This year on MLK Day, I noticed more people sharing videos and images of MLK, much more than in the past. Maybe with better and cheaper data coverage, more phones everywhere, access to YouTube and other image galleries, and social networks allowing not only more customized distribution but also different channels (and therefore content) to capture our attention. I think most people who could took some time off yesterday to be with friends and family, and I also wouldn’t be surprised if they watched an MLK video that was shared or read up on some shared articles.

Then, I noticed someone shared the homepage for Apple.com. Here’s the screenshot, below. Apple is a company that has soul, in the sense they put meaning into their products. Now, not everyone may like that approach and this is also marketing, but it’s effective marketing:

Screenshot 2015-01-19 19.29.44

It reminded me of the 2014 Holiday Season ad by Apple that showed a young, black girl using an iPhone and Mac products to upload old audio from her grandmother and then using Garage Band to remix the sound. The result is a gift for her grandmother that reminded me of the Private Press segments used in DJ’s Shadow’s album, “The Private Press” — click here to hear a sample of that. Powerful, powerful sounds.

It wasn’t too long ago that race and Apple was in the news. Remember when news started to leak that Apple would buy Beats by Dre? Everyone had an idea about the angle, the rationale — some liked it, some thought it was dumb. Most shocking to me were the sneers when it was floated Dr. Dre could be an executive at the company. Well, why not? Funny that was even an issue. But now look back at some of the best Beats commercials out there — I picked this one from Colin Kaepernick (see below). This is what Apple is also interested in, expanding from fanboy culture into different products (like headsets) to put their sensors into (like Apple Watch, etc.).

And, then, I was reminded of Tim Cook’s October op-ed in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, where he shared his own situation but also tied that struggle with the struggle of minorities in general, writing:

Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day…I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others…We’ll continue to fight for our values, and I believe that any CEO of this incredible company, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, would do the same. And I will personally continue to advocate for equality for all people until my toes point up.

All of this, in just the last 4-6 months. It isn’t discussed often, and maybe it’s marketing, too — but there’s a pattern here, and a clever one at that. Apple is using powerful images, quotes, videos, and other forms of media created by black artists and orators. And, while it’s great PR, I also believe it’s quite genuine and surely consistent. The company is obviously intentional with how it interacts with the public at large. Many companies may try this kind of PR, but they wouldn’t be able to pull it off. When you step back and look at the language in the letters, the imagery and messages on their site, the cultural strategy in acquiring Beats, and the 2014 holiday video spot, the threads tie together tastefully to portray a different side of Apple not often covered in the tech blogs.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2018 Semil Shah.

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