How Does Apple Use Public Relations?
So how does Apple use public relations? Whether it’s launching the latest iPhone, iWatch, or iPad, Apple certainly knows how to create a buzz. While other companies fight for attention, the technology giant effortlessly dominates the media, not to mention the hearts and minds of customers, every time they launch a new product. What’s their secret? Three words: Genius public relations.
Dissecting the Apple public relations strategy
The tech behemoth has built a loyal fanbase by creating innovative, high-quality products over the years.
But they’re also absolute masters of innovative marketing and PR tactics. It could be said that Apple’s public relations strategy is unusual. But it’s also extremely effective. Here are four PR and marketing tactics the company uses to great effect:
Apple PR strategy number 1: Use secrecy to fuel speculation
Many companies go to great lengths to preserve confidentiality during the product development phase. But Apple’s public relations strategy takes things a step further. Masters of the teaser marketing campaign, Apple drags out the suspense for as long as possible.
For weeks, if not months before the release of every Apple product, the media conversation builds to deafening levels. Apple stokes the buzz by providing virtually no information. For example, the brand’s 2020 event to announce the iPhone 12 was kept secret for months. They announced the launch date and sent the invites out just one week before the event.
And that wasn’t all. Apple went a step further and hid what many took to be a secret message in the launch date announcement. The media and bloggers feverishly speculated on the meaning of the message, which in turn generated phenomenal consumer interest.
The ‘secret’ was a reference to the HomePod mini device that was also revealed at the event, but the clever marketing meant Apple got a whole heap of PR coverage without doing a thing. Pure public relations mastery.
This isn’t the first time Apple has done this. You can find almost the exact same headlines about the iPhone X from 2018. In other words, secrecy doesn’t have to be a gimmick you only use once. It’s a viable long-term PR strategy that gets people coming back before you even start your publicity campaigns, giving every new product built-in momentum.
Lesson: The Apple PR game that keeps you guessing
The best way to promote your product is to get others to do it for you. Think about it. Are you more likely to buy a product based on your neighbour’s recommendation or a company’s claims in a flashy ad campaign?
Why not take a page from Apple’s marketing book and launch a teaser campaign – a series of short, mysterious announcements that lead to a larger, full-blown marketing campaign, and watch the interest and momentum build?
Assuming you’ve built strong relationships with the media and bloggers in your industry, their interest will be piqued and they’ll no doubt generate some buzz for you.
Find out more about how to cultivate good media relations in: Media Relations: How to Forge a Positive Relationship with the Media.
Don’t be afraid to go cryptic, either. People love a good mystery. Throwing a subtle hint into an otherwise normal ad is a clever way to make it do the rounds on Twitter. Your fans will discuss and debate what it might mean, all the while building excitement for the new product.
The only danger is if reality doesn’t live up to expectation. Don’t string people along for months unless you can make the payoff worth it. Nothing ruins a good story more than a bad ending. If you pull it off, though, you’ll be selling an experience, not just a product.
This is next-level marketing. Get it right and you can send fans into a frenzy and see your campaign go viral.
Apple public relations strategy number 2: Create scarcity to increase demand
Luxury goods marketers have always known that scarcity, whether real or perceived, makes a product more desirable. Apple has long utilised the principle of scarcity by having their stores stock a limited number of products on the day of a product launch. This capitalises on the FOMO (fear of missing out) and results in hundreds of people queueing for hours, or even days, as this student did.
The queues attract press attention and consequently, loads of free publicity for Apple.
Of course, scarcity isn’t always an illusion. In 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the iPhone 12 roll-out was slowed down severely by a shortage of power chips for the new phone. This time, it wasn’t the scarcity principle at play. This could have been a PR disaster for Apple, but, due to their reputation for quirky marketing, no-one batted an eyelid.
The delays actually worked to the company’s advantage. The iPhone 12’s Pro model has faced even more delays than the base model, but not because of tech shortages. It’s because the phone is selling much more quickly than Apple anticipated.
While it might be a stretch to say that the scarcity of the iPhone 12 is causing its popularity, it’s certainly not doing much to hurt it, either.
For more tips on launching a product, read Product PR: Getting your Product off to a Flying Start.
Lesson: For Apple, public relations means breaking the rules
What’s the number one rule of business? Sell your product to make a profit, of course. So how does Apple use public relations to make not selling something profitable?
It’s all about cultivating exclusivity. This ties in to how they build a loyal community. Keep reading for more on that, but the short story is that people want what they can’t have.
So, do what Apple does: break the rules and don’t let them have it.
Try intentionally restricting production of a product to create scarcity and fuel demand for your product. Other tactics you can explore are making the offer only available for a limited time or until a certain number has been sold. Or proudly display on your website how only a small number of certain items are left in stock. There are few feelings more powerful than the fear of missing out.
Naturally, you want to ensure you won’t actually have a shortage of your product. If nothing else, your shareholders won’t like it. But if you get it right, an air of exclusivity can blunt the edges of a nightmare scenario, like it did for Apple.
Apple PR strategy number 3: Attract fans who share their brand values
While other tech manufacturers market their products as utilitarian, geeky and inexpensive, Apple promotes the opposite: cool, friendly, upmarket. Apple has created a brand culture that has attracted a passionate community of followers who identify with their innovativeness, simplicity, and coolness. Its fans are so dedicated to the family of Apple products that they must have the latest gadget on release day, even if it means waiting in line for hours.
How do you cultivate a community like that?
You can tell people who you are, of course. But equally effective is saying who you’re not. A core tenet of Apple’s public relations over the years has been pushing an ‘us-versus-them’ feeling between their customers and other tech-users.
Think about the famous ‘Lemmings’ commercial from the mid-80s, which portrayed PC users as blind-folded businessmen literally walking off cliffs. Apple has continued this theme through the years, with its ‘I’m a Mac, I’m a PC’ adverts portraying PC users as boring fuddy-duddies.
With these ads, Apple makes its customers feel elite and ahead of the curve, which ties in nicely with the sense of exclusivity the company promotes with its product launches.
This Apple PR strategy clearly works, as they have millions of fans around the world. Even better, this approach works wonders in building customer loyalty. The Apple eco-system is so rich that many of their customers use their products exclusively. They’re no longer just pieces of technology: they’re a part of who someone is.
Lesson: When it comes to Apple and public relations, they’re not afraid to draw the line
Write down the brand values that define your brand culture. Remember Apple’s ‘Think Different’ ad campaign? Here are the opening lines: ‘Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in square holes…’
Once you’ve defined what your brand stands for, hone in on the type of consumers who share those values, and create digital communities through social media, blogs, and physical meet-ups, so it’s easy for your brand’s fans to connect with your company and each other.
Don’t settle for just selling products. Sell fashion statements and stories that people feel excited to share on social media with their friends. If you can inspire consumers to spread your message for you, you turn them into grassroots brand ambassadors, whose authenticity has much more power than traditional marketing ever will.
After that, ask what your brand doesn’t stand for.
Maybe you want to take a stand against a social issue, like pollution or poverty. Or, maybe you want to take a shot at bigger business in your industry. Everybody loves a David and Goliath story.
Whatever it is, give your fans a group to identify with and a counter-group to distance themselves from. That’s how you build a loyal fanbase that lasts for years.
Apple public relations strategy number 4: Align the brand with iconic innovators
What’s the link between Apple, PR, UK music artists, and Wallace and Gromit?
The answer is Apple’s ‘Behind the Mac’ campaign, a great example of how Apple target themselves towards specific communities to push their brand values. Launched in 2018, the campaign features a series of well-known creative figures, from actors to musicians, with the aim of showing how talented artists use Mac computers to do their work.
In July of 2020, Apple released a line focusing on UK talent. The ads, which featured British icons like Aardman Studios, creators of Wallace and Gromit, proudly displayed labels like ‘Made in Peckham’ next to pictures of the new MacBook.
This was a simple but effective way of linking Apple’s brand image to UK creativity.
The ads play up one of the main goals of public relations for Apple: emphasising how they spur on creativity, while also giving an inspiring reminder of the country’s creative strengths.
This lets them cash in on people’s national pride, their natural desire to be creative and the prestige of the artists in the ads. It’s a win-win.
It’s also important to note that while the artists they highlight are well-respected in their industries, people like actress Michaela Coel aren’t all household names, at least, not yet. Unlike most of its ads, Apple isn’t targeting this campaign towards the general public.
That just goes to show that in the modern day, where social media makes it easy to micro-target your content, sometimes it’s more effective to sell yourself to specific industries, groups or niches. The creative sector has always been Apple’s stronghold for desktop Macs, so this PR strategy is a truly 21st-century bit of marketing.
Lesson: Good PR cares about the community
This is a real example of how Apple cultivates a community that shares its values. By identifying a particularly British niche and focusing their marketing on it, Apple’s public relations strategy is targeted and effective.
Every business has a community they can market to. What’s yours?
Community relations is a topic in and of itself, but it’s worth thinking about. Nowadays, effective PR is all about targeting it to the right people, not trying to please everybody. Even a small campaign focused on people affected by your business can make a big difference.
Want to learn more? Read What is Community Relations? for a deep-dive on this style of marketing.