Does Apple Really Have a Halo Effect?

by Chris Seibold Apr 27, 2006

If you imagine yourself as a Tron type of guy inhabiting a virtual Macrosphere, three steps in any direction will take you to a place where everything Apple does is perfect, the products are absolute bargains and suggested improvements are perceived as the most blasphemous of insults. Some find this level of zealotry a bit off-putting, others see the frothing fervor Apple engenders as a source of unending amusement. The reality is that any company would love to project an aura that results in such a loyal and vocal user base. Put another way, if you’re Apple, it is all good.

In a world where even mentioning that the iPod might be a little, just an iota, more useful with a built in FM tuner yields a beat down of gangland proportions. One would imagine that criticizing Apple’s marketing of the Mac1 would result in, at least, a collective digital shunning. Surprisingly, that complaint about Apple is generally well received. Why the discrepancy? Because the most vocal proponents of all things Apple aren’t really loyal to Apple, they are loyal to the Mac. Apple the corporation, iPod the product, stock the accessory are just along for the ride. And fans of the Mac are wondering why Apple isn’t advertising the best thing they’ve got going.

Advertising Age has a reassuring message for all of those who wonder why Apple is letting the Mac line advertise itself by simply looking pretty in CompUSAs across the nation. The reason, well stated by Al Ries, Apple doesn’t market the Mac is because Apple markets the iPod instead.

Certainly, the iPod has provided a halo of good feeling around the Apple Corporation as a whole. A quick glance at the company’s stock price before and after the iPod went huge gives an objective measure of just how much the iPod has helped. More important than the stock price, yet less tangible, was the transforming effect on how the company is perceived. Pre iPod, it seemed as though the media couldn’t write the word “Apple” unless it was immediately preceded by “beleaguered.” With the success of the iPod, Apple is no longer seen as a company ready to fold at any moment. In fact, just the opposite seems to be the case, people are breathlessly waiting for the next big thing from Apple .

So, Apple has benefited from the success of the iPod in more than just dollars and cents, but has the iPod sold any Macs? Al Ries thinks the iPod has moved plenty of Macs and predicates the rest of the article on the halo effect in advertising.

After citing Mac sales as a prime example of the halo effect the author invokes the experience of Sirius radio and Howard Stern2. Mr. Stern’s presence on Sirius, Advertising Age avows, has brought in some millions, many of whom will never actually listen to the foul mouthed, sexually obsessed, self proclaimed King of All Media. By only advertising Mr. Stern, Sirius, the article opines, brings in many more listeners than it would by advertising the wide range of programming it features.

This, of course, is true. But, adding Howard Stern was as much about legitimizing Sirius radio as it was about bumping up the number of subscribers in the short term. Howard Stern had the most listened to show in the country, by adding that show Sirius is sending a message that they are a source for the highest quality (using the word in its loosest sense) radio content available. It is roughly analogous to the year when Fox first acquired the rights to the NFL. Fox had always been seen as a distant fourth among the networks, a kind of a big three and, oh yeah, that joke of a network. Fox overpaid for the NFL but in doing so disassociated themselves with their history of spotty hits and poor production values. Bringing in a big name can be a huge boon when trying to establish a young product that not everyone is certain is viable.

Apple wasn’t in the same boat as Sirius and Fox, the company already had the brand recognition. Likely, the carefully cultivated Apple brand is what helped digital audio players become mainstream. More tellingly, while Fox and Sirius are in the business of attracting viewers or ears Apple is in the business of selling actual products. Getting someone to take a chance on a TV show is a lot different than getting someone to fork over $1400 for a Mac. The essential question is: has the iPod really sold any Macs? Advertising Age gives us the answer in numbers:

The good news from Apple Computer wasn’t just the success of the iPod. As a matter of fact, in fiscal 2005, the iPod and iTunes together accounted for only 39% of Apple’s sales. The other 61% of Apple (computers, software and services) also did well.

Apple’s computer and related businesses were up 27% in fiscal 2005 over the previous year. And, according to industry reports, Apple increased its share of the personal computer market from 3% to 4%. That’s the halo effect in marketing.

Interesting numbers, and seemingly supportive of the conclusion reached by the article. Causality, however, is difficult to ascertain and one wonders if Advertising Age isn’t just lucky enough that the Macs sales happened to increase at the same time the iPod took off. Mac sales may have been sharply up year over because of the halo effect of iPod advertising or, perhaps, it was something else.

Without dropping in a chart and comparing slopes, we’ll note that Mac sales are clearly not a function of iPod sales. We’ll also note a few other events may have had a major impact on the number of Macs snapped up in 2005. Firstly, Apple debuted the Mac mini in January of 2005. One could just as easily attribute Apple’s success in last year in selling Macs by saying that the company finally produced a machine at a price point a greater number of consumers could meet.

In the end, the conclusion reached by Advertising Age with respect to the Mac, rings false. Perhaps the problem lies with the disparity of the products. Advertising Age cites three examples of the halo effect: Motorola phones, Sirius radio and the King Cullen supermarket chain. Here’s where the disconnect happens: Siruis wants listeners, what you listen too doesn’t really matter, the product is the content. Motorola sells phones, which phone you buy is less important than buying a Motorola cell phone. King Cullen sold a wide variety of stuff, their goal was to get people into the store.

None of the examples are directly applicable to the Mac. Getting someone interested in a Motorola cell phone is more important than getting them to buy the RAZR. The iPod and the Mac don’t share the same functionality, it is has to be a rare event for someone to walk into the store considering and iPod and opting for an iBook instead. King Cullen wanted maximal traffic to the store to sell the high margin items on impulse. While that tactic works for grocery store’s with over priced shampoos, a $600 impulse buy of a Mac mini is a different beast. Finally, Sirius just wants subscribers, as long as they are viewed as delivering content equal to terrestrial quality radio or better, what the subscribers listen to is unimportant. While the halo works for all the aforementioned cases, it doesn’t work for Macs.

1) Apple’s Mac marketing campaign is a lot like Bigfoot. While both may exist the hard evidence for believing in either is decidedly lacking.

So, if you find yourself wondering when the halo effect will kick in for the Mac you can stop wondering, because it never will. Mac sales will, if Apple maintains its current policy, depend solely on how great the computing experience is.


  • Wrong.  There is a halo effect but not direct as in I bought an iPod, I liked it, I am now buying a Mac.

    The iPod frenzy got people (i.e. the media) talking about Apple, which got them talking about the Mac, which got other people, who otherwise never gave it a thought, thinking about a Mac.  They looked into it, saw what they liked and voila, bought a Mac.  The switchers I know bought a Mac first, then an iPod.  Some never bought an iPod.  Also, all the switchers I know are Mossberg-like in their praise for the Mac.

    Without the iPod buzz, there would not have been so many people making the effort to check out a Mac.  Mind you mental inertia is a powerful force.

    tundraboy had this to say on Apr 27, 2006 Posts: 132
  • I am in IT, have my own IT business, and in some 25 years in IT I have always thought Macs too out there to be taken seriously.  I wasnt even interested in an iPod until I worked out i could fit my entire collection of 650 classical and opera CDs on one.  As soon as i figured that out, i bought a 40Gb iPod.

    The iPod was beautifully packaged and it is a joy to handle and look at.  That was interesting…

    And then iTunes didnt work too well on Windows - if i ran any other application while ripping a track, the result was crackly.

    I needed a new notebook… With my heart in my mouth, i bought a 17” Powerbook.

    Once again, the experience of unpacking and then using the machine was fantastic.  When it found and joined my non-apple wireless network all by itself I was hooked (it had taken 4 days and 3 support calls to get this to work on Windows).

    Now I have just persuaded a friend (Windows user) to buy the new 17” Macbook Pro.

    So that’s 2 new Mac users so far.  I reckon I will sell another dozen or so for Apple in the next 12 months or so.  All to people who currently use Windows.

    And perhaps some or all of them will influence others.  Those who have “seen the light” tend to want to spread the message…

    So I reckon that’s a halo effect.  It will be a slow groundswell, but if I had any money, I would be buying shares in Apple…

    sydneystephen had this to say on Apr 27, 2006 Posts: 124
  • Maybe you should have opted for the 12 inch pbook then and invested the remaining thousand or so…

    You should send your story to apple, it’s quite possibly the best example of a switcher story I’ve heard!

    Benji had this to say on Apr 27, 2006 Posts: 927
  • Benji had this to say on Apr 27, 2006 Posts: 927
  • “The iPod was beautifully packaged and it is a joy to handle and look at.  That was interesting…
    And then iTunes didnt work too well on Windows - if i ran any other application while ripping a track, the result was crackly.
    I needed a new notebook… With my heart in my mouth, i bought a 17” Powerbook. “

    So can your Powerbook be considered an iPod accessory? Yeah, iPod accessories are really quite expensive… ;-]

    Frosty Grin had this to say on Apr 27, 2006 Posts: 33
  • Two of my friends are buying new notebooks, and they both consider the Acer Travel Mate 8200 which is about $2500 and its specs are a little better than the $2500 MacBook Pro (2GB of RAM, and some other things I don’t really care about). I told them about the MacBook Pro and gave them the website. They read it and the next day came to me and told me that they’ll buy a MacBook Pro instead of the Acer, even though it’s specs are not as good…..
    One owns an iPod, the other one didn’t. But the fact that they switched isn’t because of the halo effect, it’s boot camp!

    wackybit had this to say on Apr 28, 2006 Posts: 16
  • Sydneystephen, great story and very well written. I agree with Ben, send it to Apple.

    Chris: Didn’t I say to write about the massive Boot Camp halo effect? smile

    Chris Howard had this to say on Apr 28, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • The relative paucity of switchers speaks to the power of Microsoft’s monopoly more than anything else. Apple is probably just being realistic in its drive to increase marketshare. It will take a long time and a lot of insanely great products to make a dent. But I think it is clear that increased marketshare is Apple’s goal and the switch to Intel, Bootcamp and all the other solutions they come out with to make Macs more interoperable are directed towards that. If they succeed, everyone will benefit. Competition is a good thing.

    DD had this to say on Apr 28, 2006 Posts: 2
  • There is also Apple retail. These Apple stores are relatively new and a lot of people come in to buy an ipod and also happen to see Mac OS X in action, possibly for the first time. It would be hard for them not to be impressed by the Mac.

    gmathur had this to say on Apr 28, 2006 Posts: 2
  • I also have a friend who bought an iPod first and then a Mac afterwards when she needed a notebook. She did not “blame” it on the iPod though, she compared & noticed that the iBook she got in the end was the best option for what she wanted from a notebook at the price she was willing to pay. I do believe there is a certain kind of iPod halo though.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Apr 28, 2006 Posts: 371
  • My switcher story involves an iPod, but the initial eye-opener for me was about three years ago.

    I was always a PC guy. I usually had to use Windows but preferred Linux, and although I loved the stability of it once I had it configured, I was always frustrated by how difficult it was to actually get Linux the way I wanted. That was fine sometimes. Tinkering was how I got into Linux in the first place, but as my professional life progressed, I didn’t have the spare hours to spend recompiling the kernel.

    I found Windows a pain, but easier to use as long as nothing went wrong. I used Windows for word processing, Outlook etc, and Linux for Java coding. I discounted Macs because of the “high cost” and they “weren’t compatible” anyway.

    So anyway, about three years ago I was at my wife’s sister’s wedding. Some of use had digital cameras and probably took a couple hundred photos between us. The next day, the immediate family met up at the in-laws’ house and we decided to put on a slideshow from the previous day.

    The bestman had his PowerBook with him, but I decided to use my father-in-law’s PC to download from my camera since of course it would be better ... This was pre-SP2 days (SP2 IS better for this) and I found that his PC wouldn’t recognise my camera, so I had to go to the Canon website to look for the drivers. After downloading the drivers, I started to copy over the photos (via the USB1.0 connection) but was called into the living room. There, the bestman had already copied all the photos off my camera (via his USB2 port) and a couple of other cameras and set up a slideshow, while I was searching for the drivers.

    This was an eye-opener for me, I threw away all I thought I knew about Macs, and I took a serious look at Macs, beginning to like what I saw, and thinking that maybe I would get one if the price ever dropped low enough.

    Then my brother got an iPod. The moment I touched it, I was hooked. It fitted my hand perfectly, the interface was easier than I ever thought possible. So I had one within weeks (40GB iPod Photo).

    Many of you will understand the impressions I got from opening my first Apple product ... the packaging was more impressive than the contents from some other manufacturers. The iPod has been hardly out of my possession since then.

    After that, resistance was futile. I knew the next computer I was going to buy was going to be a Mac. Every visit to the Apple store reinforced this. But the Dell desktop I was using had the surprising habit of remaining stable and trouble free, and SP2 did help with several things.

    Still, I twice almost bought a PowerBook, and late 2005 I almost bought the last G5 iMac, but something made me hold on. My Dell finally died permanently in January (removing any resistance my wife might have had for getting a new computer), and I had an Intel-powered iMac a week later. My wife needs a new computer, and we’re getting one of the new i.Mac.Books, if they’re ever released.

    Now, I find the *nix underpinnings of a big bonus - I can get my command line interface fix, and do things like build Apache and Tomcat, while also having a GUI that’s certainly easy on the eye. I don’t feel that it’s quite as rock-steady as Linux, but it’s so much easier to use - with Parallels, I’ve been able to run Linux on it anyway. I haven’t found any software that I need that doesn’t run on it. It’s as fast, if not faster, at Java development as Linux, so I now do everything on the iMac.

    So, did the iPod make me switch? It had a large part to play and I might still have gone Dell for a new computer without it, but I think each experience with Apple products reinforced the other. I may still have switched, but maybe not so early.

    And yes, I’m still the starry-eyed recent convert, but nothing yet has made me regret my decision.

    nilp had this to say on Apr 28, 2006 Posts: 16
  • Great story, nilp. Would love to hear more about your Parallels experience. Do you have a blog?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Apr 28, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Haha. Looks like it’s turned into a comment list of switchers trying to out-do each other with their switching stories. nilp: your story was CLASSIC switcher story; “I was still searching for the drivers when I found the bestman had already transferred all the photos via his USB2 port and already made the slideshow” - nice…

    But YES. This is the whole point you’ve missed CHRIS! (again.)  The ‘Halo Effect’ isn’t going to become apparent from advertising of the Macs. The advertising comes from word-of-mouth and, like mentioned, all the media attention Apple is getting. There are many more forms of advertising than 30 second TV spots smile

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Apr 29, 2006 Posts: 299
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