A little while ago I told you about Apple’s carefully crafted Archetype Branding of Steve Jobs as a "Wizard of Oz"-like character, the magician who disappears behind the curtains and reappears with new, ever-more-amazing wonders of technology.

Since then, there have been a number of developments that both prove the power of this form of marketing, as well as its potential pitfalls.

Good news first: Apple’s iPhone has been flying off the shelves at a rate of 3 Million in the first month. And the new iPhone App Store has had very healthy downloads of both free and for-pay applications during that same time frame, to the tune of 60 Million downloads and $30 Million in sales (and all despite the launch weekend hiccups that "melted" Apple’s servers).

Apple is proving that there is real money to be made in an add-on app market, something that has eluded most other players so far, be they Google, Facebook, or MySpace.

So the mix of secrecy ("The Enigma" archetype) and The Magician (sometimes also called "The Change Master" archetype), that equals "The Wizard of Oz", clearly has been working for Apple.

A few weeks ago we were predictably fed more grist for the mill, when Apple made several more secretive yet enticing statements during its Q2/2008 financial reporting re: Q3/Q4 earnings projections, specifically the financial dent that an as of yet unnamed new product or product redesign or possibly significant price drop might make in the results for the second half of the year.

Cue the rumor mongering…

But maybe it has been working too well: Besides the launch hiccups already mentioned, there have been issues reported with the iPhone 3G’s battery life in 3G mode, as well as with Apple’s only tangentially related MobileMe storage/synching service that was supposed to replace Apple’s previous .Mac service.

A Bridge Too Far?

This latter change on top of and simultaneous to the 3G launch and the firmware update for the 1st generation iPhones may have proved the proverbial "bridge too far". The new service has been resoundingly panned, including by people that easily qualify as Mac/Apple enthusiasts (such as Walt Mossberg of the WSJ Tech Department).

And while hardware and other issues with the iPhone and other Mac products have been mostly annecdotal (read Michael Arrington of TechCrunch on his experiences here), the MobileMe issues are so universally acknowledged that Apple has been voluntarily adding several months of free service (usually priced at about $100/year) for users, along with strong mea culpa statements.

And therein lies the pitfall of successful Archetype Branding: Once you have "imprinted" your archetype or mix of archetypes upon the mind of John Q Public, you have to deliver on the promise or the associations that where developed at this point. Otherwise, you run the risk of offending more resoundingly, precisely because you bonded with your customers and prospects at a deeper, more meaningful level.

People’s Unconscious Minds (their "Inner Child") may respond with outright indignation or anger when the cherished association is broken up. "You really aren’t a Magician after all… ".

If your success outpaces your ability to deliver (in Apple’s case delivering working marvels of technology to a rapidly growing user base), you have a real problem. One would hope that Apple understands this and avoids too many repeats of this dilemma in the future. Else its stellar brand could be in serious jeopardy.

67 thoughts on “Apple’s “Magician” Archetype Branding Revisited: Good News – Bad News

  1. Alex please contact me through the mail i gave in the comment.
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  2. I do _not_ understand the fetishing of what is, in essence, a portable telephone. It’s a nice looking object, but I understand ‘phones like the Nokia e70 are technically superior.

    That’s what I want: A mini Pc in a phone. If call charges weren’t so expensive, I’d be even keener.

  3. In reply to @TigerTom:
    Tom, this is exactly the point, what you call “fetishing” of a technology item is NOT rational, but instead an emotionally based behavior, in this case in large part due to Apple’s successful Archetype Branding.

    In essence, the old adage holds true that “people make emotional decisions that they then justify after the fact with logic”…

    Conversely, phones like the Nokia have simply not given many consumers enough of a reason to marvel at whatever it is that it can do. That’s why one of the categories for this blog is called “Business is Marketing”! If no one knows or cares how good you are, it just doesn’t matter.

  4. Very interesting post on the sustenance of the magician archetype. We have already seen many question the fact that Apple hasnt released any innovative products this year and are just releasing upgraded versions of existing products.

    But my guess is that people are willing to give every firm a few years before they cause another breakthrough innovation. The key for Apple is to ensure they don’t launch what they think is a breakthrough but is never adopted. Difficult I know, with the cult following they have… but if it does happen, then it could mark the beginning of the end.

    I also think Steve Jobs and his personality are key to sustenance of this archetype. His successor can’t just be a visionary and a genius, he has to be pull a rabit out of a hat

  5. Archetype Branding is both positive and negative. Many people consider jobs a pioneer and they devote themselves to Apple products because they love Steve Jobs. I on the other hand have only bought the iPhone… that’s from all Apple products ever. I remember when Jobs used a half dozen lawyers (at the expense of Apple) to defeat his eldest biological child’s claims for child support until she was around 10. I understand their relationship is better now and everyone makes terrible mistakes that they later regret. The iPhone was just too good to not buy despite the “branding” I associate with the company.

  6. I am still amazed they managed to escape from failure a few years ago. And their blocking of the Google voice app definitely shows their fear of being replaced by better technology. One of the writers at techcrunch even said he was ditching his Iphone because of this single move, so they are not sitting as pretty as many would think.

  7. I am still amazed they managed to escape from failure a few years ago. And their blocking of the Google voice app definitely shows their fear of being replaced by better technology. One of the writers at techcrunch even said he was ditching his Iphone because of this single move, so they are not sitting as pretty as many would think.

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