There was a time when I was holding my breath for the next Apple product release. I admire technology and believe that it has a net positive impact on our society. I felt the Apple brand inspired individualism, the highest quality, creativity, and a quest for greatness. (Of course, there are good arguments for and against all of these ideas).
I was excited to get the Apple Watch before it was released. I wanted to be an early adopter and more closely connected to the technology that I believed held so much promise. Practically, I’d use it to run and listen to music, ditching the phone arm-clip and replacing my flimsy Garmin watch. Over the years, I ended up buying several Apple Watches.
During the time I was really into the Apple Watch idea, I was bothered by one key component. It seemed very obvious, though I tried to ignore it. I fought my instinct to be repelled and tried to overcome. It seemed sacrilege to say out loud. My thoughts would fall on judgmental, deaf ears.
The Apple Watch is an ugly timepiece.
I considered myself an individual, however, would not follow my instinct, taste, or preference.
This article is not about the functionality or the fashion of the Apple Watch. Nor is it about whether I should or should not wear one or purchase the next one sure to come out soon. What I want to understand, is why as an adult I found myself influenced in such a way, that I would put aside my personal preference in order to make this (rather large) purchase.
Fashion and the Need to Socially Accepted
What does it mean to be ostracized?
The definition is to exclude, by general consent, from society, friendship, conversation, privileges, etc.1 As human beings, there is a level of fear of being ostracized in all of us. Mark Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, claims this is due to evolution. If we were excluded, this meant we didn’t survive.2 Excluded people tend to be more aware of signals of potential connection, act more likable, are more conforming to others, and complying.
I’ve felt like an outsider for most of my life – excluded. Did this cause me to want to wear a watch I thought was ugly?
This brings forth the idea of conformity. There are four general types/levels of conformity, compliance, Internalization, identification, and ingratiation.3 Compliance occurs when the influence of behavior is accepted in the hopes of gaining approval from another person or group. Internalization is when the behaviors beset by the influence are intrinsically rewarding. And identification is a type of conformity where one adopts the expected behaviors to secure a self-defining relationship with another person or group. Ingratiation was later described as one conforming to impress or gain favor from others – closely related to compliance.
It could be said that my purchasing and wearing an Apple Watch was a form of identification based on my affinity for Apple products. But still, I thought it was ugly and I wore it regardless.
Why would I act against my preference?
The Psychology of Acting Against Our Best Interests
Our amygdala (the part of your brain that recognized threats) has a strong reaction to potential immediate threats. Therefore, our perception of immediate threats is more severe than threats that may be further down the line. We survive on a moment-to-moment basis, the future is a luxury, far away. In this way, we are hypersensitive to threats of being ostracized.
“Rejection blocks the need to belong, which I would argue is the most powerful motivation there is,” says Baumeister, a Florida State University psychology professor.5
The fear of rejection can cause many issues all stemming from our innate need to belong. Rejection can cause trauma, depression, pain response, anxiety and stress, and abuse.6 Rejection has been shown to actually cause pain in the body!7
Based on evolutionary psychology, those who felt the fear of rejection more strongly were most likely to survive. And so, due to this amygdalaian distortion, we are prone to acting against our long-term, best interests.
Conceivably, I may have a strong sensitivity to rejection based on feeling like an outsider. According to Baumeister, this is a good thing and a bad thing, but ultimately I’ll survive. But the tipping point for me was the functionality and efficiency. When running, I’d ditch two devices for one. Instead of having my music coming from my phone and my run tracked through another watch, I’d only have the Apple Watch. A nice simplification.
But…even that didn’t work so well, at first.
The Power a Brand Has On Our Psychology
When the Apple Watch first came out, songs could be transferred from the phone to the watch in a limited capacity. There had to be some type of Bluetooth headphones in order to use this feature. There was no headphone jack. Often, on runs, the Bluetooth connection was unreliable and I’d find myself tuneless and far from my phone. The technology works far better in later models. Nevertheless, I chose to stick with Apple. I purchased Series 3, 4, & 5.
So, it didn’t work well (at first) and I thought they were ugly. Why did I keep supporting Apple?
A brand seems to be a word or idea that describes an arena of other words or ideas. Nike, for example, is synonymous with athletics, clothing, shoes, Michael Jordon, Lebron James, Tiger Woods, and more. We associated the “check” part of the logo with the brand. The power of a brand is closely related to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, physiology, safety, belongingness, ego needs, and self-actualization7.
In the picture above, the psychological need for safety is demonstrated with Allstate Insurance’s brand and their slogan “You’re in good hands with Allstate.”
So my desire to have an Apple Watch, even though I thought they did not work well and were ugly, most likely comes from the need of “belonging” and the need to “self-actualize” (perhaps belonging to two categories makes the adaption stronger from a marketing point of view??).
These ideas are why I am still a supporter of Apple. Because of the emotional impact and its subsequent aligning with the need hierarchy, I wasn’t rationally rating the product.
Ergo, I bought an Apple Watch when I thought it was ugly because I felt that it would help me self-actualize (I’d become fit and more “connected to it all”) and belong to a self-defined community of fellow Apple users. The purchase actually seemed to be a rite of passage into a community or identity (identification) and really wasn’t about fashion or functionality.
I have a close family member (who initially introduced me to Apple products but has since done a 180) who often teases referring to Apple as crApple, seeing right through this branding smokescreen.
Is This a Good Thing? Is This A Bad Thing?
I support the Apple brand because of the idea that it is “the best”. There is also a certain prestige association. I’ve bought into the Apple ecosystem and I’m habituated. I use the full suite of Apple software. Apple represents to me the possibilities and potential of human nature and I enjoy the aesthetic nature of the products (except for the watch). I also know (somewhere in the annuls of information mentally stored) that I can probably find cheaper options and perhaps even better-functioning technology elsewhere with other products.
In the case of the Apple Watch, I bought it as a ticket to belong and to further integrate myself into the ecosystem. Among the constant alerts, the over-connectedness, and my dislike for its appearance, I opted to stop wearing the watch daily. I use it for only running. It is very convenient for that purpose. Indeed, this may be a case of the increased prevalence of function over form the older I become. But it certainly is a case of brand loyalty.
There are both good and bad to brand loyalty. If you are loyal to a brand, it is easier to make decisions when purchasing a product. It can also cause you to align yourself with your community based on the brand you support. However, it can be terrible when it comes to critical thinking. Companies change in quality, product offerings, and more. Political parties change up their platforms. Often we look at the label (the brand) and we feel we know what to expect. There is a danger of being tricked by this assumption.
Marketers know well how the mind works. We are manipulated each day by the information we are exposed to. Part of our humanity is to be attracted to the ‘shiny’ and new. Marketers can present products in this way, making items we may not normally buy attractive. How many things do you have that end up being junk or you never use?
While so-called “high-end” cars such as BMW and Mercedes tend to have more frequent and more expensive trips to the mechanic when compared to Toyota, they are viewed as a status symbol10. Drugs is another example, where often the generic is fundamentally the same yet the name brand is up to 700% more expensive.
Marketers’ role is to convince you to buy. Typically, there are five tactics used, including, using emotional ideas highlighting outcomes, highlighting your flaws, repositioning the competition, promoting exclusivity, and introducing fear, uncertainty, and doubt11. Increasingly, marketers find better ways to reach into our psyche and make it seem like purchasing their product is the right choice to make. This is how I ended up buying and wearing a watch in which I didn’t like the way it looked and the promised functionality was clunky at best.
Still, current consumer product raters rate the latest Apple Watch at the top of the smartwatch category.12, 13, 14 For now my ugly Series 5 continues to do what I need it to do.
But wow is it ugly…