Apple re-inventing itself as a luxury brand


January 6, 2015 by dannybishopcreative

There’s been a lot written about Apple Watch. There have been those hailing it as a game changer, those who have declared it DOA (even before it’s arrived), and those who’ve taken a more balanced view.

Generally the discussion has been around design or technology, comparing it to other wearables and regularly if people are ready to embrace a smart watch.

That’s all well and good, but it misses what I believe is the biggest thing about the Apple Watch.

In the future, people will look back at the release of the Apple Watch as the second transformation of Apple.

Apple Watch and Apple's transition to a luxury brand

Apple Watch and Apple’s transition to a luxury brand

In 2001 Apple released the iPod. Many people have defined that as the transformation of Apple from a computer company to a music company. When viewed with some hindsight, the more accurate version is that it marked the start of Apple from a computer company to a consumer goods company.

The iPod ushered in an era where everyone owned an Apple device, and paved the way in both tech and consumer acceptance/desire for the iPhone.

The Apple watch has mostly been seen as an extension of this: Apple releasing the next product in a line that marks the move from computer to consumer.

However I think we’re looking a something that’s transformational for the company – even more so than a move towards wearables.

The first hint that Apple were about to undergo another shift was the hiring of Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts.

Apple exec Angela Ahrendts

Apple exec Angela Ahrendts

Ms Ahrendts left the job as CEO of one of the world’s most recognisable fashion brands to become ‘Senior Vice President, Retail and Online Stores‘.

I put her title in quotes for a reason.

Some people say that being a CEO is a terrible job. Purely because once you’re CEO you have nowhere to go. You can step sideways, but rarely to CEO’s take a demotion.  Ms Ahrendts took what looked like a demotion, if you only read the title.

The day that Apple announced Apple Watch it became possible to believe that she had been courted by Apple specifically to guide them through the next transition. And that her title was nothing more than slight-of-hand intended to confuse the competition until it was too late for them to react.

That transformation is to take Apple from a consumer goods company to a luxury brand.

There’s probably a few of you saying “Yes, they’re already a luxury goods company… have you seen what they charge for an iMac?!”

But they haven’t been.  They’ve been expensive compared to their competitors, but that’s not the sole measure of a luxury item.

For most people, luxury goods are all about marketing. That marketing might be revealling truths, but unless you’re telling the story no one knows about it.

For luxury brands the way they define themselves is usually by positioning themselves against the following principles;

  • Quality
  • Exclusivity
  • Individuality
  • Heritage
  • Craftsmanship
  • Success

There is overlap here, and many would point out other pillars (especially pricing, and although there are rumours the Apple watch will feature luxury priced models that’s another discussion).

However when you look at Apple’s marketing material for the new Apple Watch, you can see it has been created specifically to tick the luxury goods boxes.

Apple Watch Luxury Branding

Apple Watch Luxury Branding

In this image, taken from Apple’s website and seen on the day of launch, we can see how the watch is being positioned as a luxury item. Let’s break it apart…

A modern interpretation of a design developed in Milan at the end of the 19th century.


Speaking directly to heritage – something rarely seen in the electronics industry.

Woven on specialized Italian machines, the smooth stainless steel mesh wraps fluidly around your wrist.

Highlighting the craftsmanship – placing this as something other than a mass produced item.

And because it’s fully magnetic, the Milanese Loop is infinitely adjustable, ensuring a perfect fit.

Quality and individuality are referenced, but only after heritage and craftsmanship – in the hierarchy of importance the functional elements of the watch band are below the way the band is meant to be perceived.

Apple have long been proponents of using marketing that speaks to the way a product will be used, rather than the features of the product. It’s been one of the distinguishing features of Apple advertising since the introduction of the iPod more than a decade ago.

But the marketing for the Apple Watch is something different again. This isn’t just selling the lifestyle rather than spouting the specs. This is marketing designed to define a product as part of a category.

Mens magazine, Maxim, sought comment from a group of luxury watch brands when Apple announced the Apple Watch back in September. The most interesting comment was from Greubel Forsey co-founder Stephen Forsey.

… We don’t feel a similar emotion or the culture and character that is found within a fine, hand-finished mechanical watch.

Apple’s marketing is absolutely intending to make that statement appear as foolish as the one made by Steve Ballmer in 2007 or the people who claimed that the iPod stood for ‘Idiots Price Our Devices‘.

Apple want to make sure even before you pick up an Apple Watch that you have every reason to see this device as something much more than technology – and they’re re-inventing the company as they do so.


Note: The market still doesn’t seem to guess that Angela Ahrendts is perhaps really at Apple to manage the transition from consumer to luxury brand. But in a recent Fortune article there is a telltale sign; Ahrendts announces the window for the release of the Apple Watch.


One thought on “Apple re-inventing itself as a luxury brand

  1. In the New Yorker’s profile piece on Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design, Jonathan Ive, there are more hints at what is about to happen with Apple.

    Quotes from that article

    According to Clive Grinyer, “Jon’s always wanted to do luxury.”

    Ive has begun to work with Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice-president of retail, on a redesign—as yet unannounced—of the Apple Stores. These new spaces will surely become a more natural setting for vitrines filled with gold (and perhaps less welcoming, at least in some corners, to tourists and truants). Apple had not, overnight, become an élite-oriented company—and it would sell seventy-five million iPhones in the final quarter of 2014, many of them in China—but I wondered how rational, and pure of purpose, one can make the design of a V.I.P. area. Ive later told me that he had overheard someone saying, “I’m not going to buy a watch if I can’t stand on carpet.”

    It is this latter quote that’s particularly telling, hinting that the hundreds of Apple stores globally may be about to lead that transition to luxury in a very physical way.

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