By Yonatan Gordon
Let’s think for a moment about the concept of branding. Most of us have come up with names and designs for public consumption. They started off as incipient thoughts, and then thankfully blossomed into full-fledged companies or products. But what exactly happened during this transition? At what point does something turn from being creative to capitalist?
Those of you who are familiar with a little physics have heard of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Put simply, it states that you can’t measure both the position and the velocity of an object at the same time. If we were to relate this back to our discussion, we would say that either you have a brand or a concept; a particle or a wave. If the brand is thriving, that means that despite all the capitalist endeavors to promote the brand, the concept still shines through in the hearts and minds of the consumer.
For instance, when Apple embarks on patent wars against their competitors, the first question asked by the media pundits is whether Apple is still an innovator? This is because to defend a patent is prestigious but not progressive. Innovation is momentum, while defending patents gives off the air of complacency. To remain a leader you need to keep on the move. Once a stock analyst can predict your momentum, then your position as an industry leader starts to wane. Like light, the more you try to hold onto your brand, the more it alludes to. As we will see, this is because what attracts the public is the concept behind the brand, not the brand itself; the movement of the light rather than the ability to pin down its position.
When consulting with companies, I like to build what I call a Vision Statement. Many times we don’t even realize why a name or logo attracts us. That’s why it’s helpful to take a step back, and reflect on those founding concepts that we promote daily.
Even common household brands have symbolism that largely gets overlooked. Let’s go back to our first example: Apple Inc. (formerly Apple Computer). Officially the “apple” name was chosen because it sounded “fun, spirited and not intimidating.” Steve Jobs after all spent a wonderful summer in an apple orchard picking apples. To accentuate his love for apples, Jobs for a time even tried an apple only diet. While it didn’t quite have the desired effects (he wanted to do away with the tedious task of showering), it does show that for him, the apple wasn’t just an arbitrary word that he chose out of the hat.
The operation manual for the 1976 Apple 1 Computer has the depiction of a Newton-like figure sitting under an apple tree. We can only imagine what then ensues … the shining apple in the tree falls, and then eureka! Gravity is discovered. Is this then the most telling Vision Statement for Apple Inc.? That when you use Apple products, you uncover some hidden force of nature?
But this doesn’t explain the “bitten apple” logo that replaced Newton since 1977, or the company’s motto: “Think Different”. It seems more accurate to say that Steve Jobs wanted to foster the pursuit of knowledge.
Tree … apple … knowledge, this sounds almost Biblical. While according to Jewish tradition, the fruit of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge was likely not an apple, still the depiction of a bitten apple in Apple’s logo seems more a throwback to Adam and Eve than to Newton. Technology, when properly harnessed, indeed has the ability to return us to a more idyllic state. So there you have it. We’ve explored something a little more deep than the outer peel of the fruit.
What does it mean to brand beyond the brand? Does it mean that if you name your company Apple that you have to eat them as well? To a degree … you don’t want to be marketing Pepsi and be caught with a Coke in hand. The fact that Steve Jobs had an apple only diet showed his loyalty to the concept. But more essential than eating apples, or drinking Pepsi, is to appreciate the attraction behind the brand. A bitten apple signifies the pursuit of knowledge, and that’s important for anyone working at Apple to know. It’s also important to have in mind each time they embark on a new product or advertising campaign. They should always consider whether their present activity is furthering the pursuit of knowledge.
If there arises a discord between the brand and the image, this is because the attraction to the brand is disrupted. If Apple one day said we’re not about knowledge but gaming … our products are here just to play games … people would get fed up and move on.
BACK TO NEWTON
Let’s end off with a “What If” mental exercise. What if in 1976, Apple had decided to keep their scenic Newton setting as their logo? What difference would this have made to their brand?
Whether the story about Newton is true of not, the shining apple in the scene foretells the discovery of gravity. To transition from the world of physics to marketing and psychology, something is “heavy” for you if you find it compelling. If this thing called a personal computer is interesting enough to take up hours of your time, then you are drawn to it like an object hovering around the event horizon of a black hole. But this branding is fraught with pitfalls. While the device may be gravitational, this doesn’t infer an intrinsic value to the time spent on the device. Marketing that the PC is a great invention that you can spend hours on per day, may have opened it up to criticism that it is just another glorified time waster.
TIME DELAYED APPLES
Perhaps a better way to utilize the Newton scene would have been to show that inspiration and creativity comes to those who wait. Apple after all provided an entire generation of school students with discounted Apple computers. They did so in the hope that when these kids grew up, they would be lifetime consumers. This approach paid off big time. Apple is known for being especially popular among creative-minded individuals. Part of this attraction comes from the fact that Apple enabled their creativity by providing them computers to use while they were young.
This answer doesn’t completely work though. For one, Newton wasn’t expecting the apple to fall on his head. It just did. So if the lesson here is to teach the importance of patience in education and creative pursuits, this doesn’t seem like the best scene to depict. Even if you say that Newton had been contemplating why objects don’t float about for quite some time, we ruled out the mass appeal of “gravity” marketing earlier. If Apple Computer wanted to impart this delayed creativity lesson, it may have been better to depict a person planting a carob tree. Carobs can take as long as six or seven years to bloom. Of course the company would have been named Carob Computer instead of Apple … but second to the bitten apple imagery, this seems to be the next best choice.
Our only question then is whether Steve Jobs would have gone on a carob only diet? There is a Jewish sage who did just that with his son for thirteen years.
PUTTING EVERYTHING IN CONTEXT
While the writings above give much to think about, our method is to complete our thoughts within the context of Jewish tradition. As was mentioned in our book discussion article, putting things in context is the third and final stage of the engagement process called “enclothement” (תקונים).
Our first task is to weave everything we’ve said into one cohesive concept. We can unify falling apples (the original logo) and the bitten “think different” apple (the new set of logos) by redefining the figure under the apple tree. As mentioned, there was a Torah sage who ate only carobs with his son for thirteen years. His name was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of one of the most central works of Kabbalah called the Zohar.
Our search for the Grand Unified Theory behind Apple begins by shifting our sight to bits; smaller and smaller bits of information. If the original tree logo were to be successful, instead of gravity, it should have spoke to the process of dividing and measuring things.
Just as the manna in the desert had to be ground into small bits, the act of measurement requires the ability to resolve something into its smallest individual parts.
Jewish sages are referred to sometimes simply as the “counters” (סופרים) because they would lovingly count the number of verses, words, or letters of the Torah. One of the differences between the revealed and concealed teachings of the Torah is that the revealed teachings usually do not go beyond the level of phenomena or meaning related to a single word. But the concealed tradition resolves the Torah even further, delving into smaller and smaller quanta of the text.
Lag Ba’omer (the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer cycle) is the day on which Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai passed away, and the day on which he revealed the deepest secrets of the Torah. For this reason, Lag Ba’omer is called the day of the giving of the inner dimension of the Torah; this is also the day most representative of the ability of the inner dimension of the Torah to help us appreciate even the smallest particle of Torah.
What keeps us moving forward is our hope in the ability to divide reality. What is true for science today is also true for the world of technology. Like a modern physicist that keeps searching for smaller particles of matter, time and energy, consumers are looking to discover with smaller bits of knowledge. People would like each “bite” out of the apple to be full with vast amounts content.
If we could ascribe one day of the year to Apple it would be Lag Ba’omer; the day on which Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught us the importance of dividing reality into smaller bits (or bites) of knowledge. This explains why the original logo was a man sitting under a tree; why the transition went to a bitten apple; and why the motivation for the company is to create smaller and faster products that do more.