In a recent talk on how popular culture shapes our food choices, I introduced myself to the audience by admitting that, over the course of my 20 years working in branding, I had become an outspoken critic of the industry for its distortion of truth and lack of transparency and for promoting ideas and practices that are destructive to animals, the environment and our well being. At the same time, I feel that this same industry can teach us something about how ideas spread as a general matter. And that’s how I arrive at the Apple analogy.
In the late 90s I was a diehard Mac user in the graphic arts at a time when the media spelled doom for Apple Computer. Everyone thought Apple would topple. Then Apple came out with its famous Think Different campaign, adorning billboards and entire sides of buildings and our TV screens with full bleed portraits of visionaries like Gandhi, Einstein, The Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela. It was a direct appeal to their “early adopter” base. It was also an appeal to the underdog or the untapped potential in all of us that we always want to see have a chance at succeeding. I and others in their base thought this was a crazy strategy. We thought it was counterintuitive and futile to “preach to the choir” of starving artists. What they should be doing is increasing their market share by appealing to a more mainstream audience, or so we believed.
What we did not realize at the time was that Apple was staging a major comeback with a rebranding campaign that sought to inspire and rally its base of artists and creative professionals. Why? Because they knew that these consumer pioneers needed a huge morale boost to recover from all the negativity surrounding Apple’s fall from grace and to motivate them into becoming Apple’s “brand champions” who would then transform the Apple message into mainstream acceptance. This tried and tested brand strategy asserts that early adopters will do much of the marketing for you (and save you a lot of advertising dollars) if you empower them with the right tools and information they need. And of course this strategy worked for Apple whose products are now a household name.
Now even though one could easily argue that Apple is not a paragon of corporate responsibility, if we focus strictly on Apple’s rebranding strategy, I believe there is an important lesson to be learned. Social movements are like brands in that they both rely on a big idea and they emerge from obscurity by first building a strong base of support. The vegan base is still quite weak and needs a lot of reinforcement right now if we are going to reach that tipping point and begin to win over the early majority which would be the next large sector of our population most sympathetic to our cause.
So instead of frustrating ourselves by targeting our message to a general audience that isn’t ready for it, we could try following the example set by Apple and many other successful brands and focus first on building a stronger vegan community that also reaches out to those most sympathetic to our cause.