Think Different: the use of Organic Intellectuals in the Marketing of Apple Products

Intellectuals, even organic intellectuals with counter-hegemonic values, retain the ability to play a significant role in sustaining consumer culture.  This is clearly illustrated through the Think Different campaign of Apple computers. This commercial uses the following countercultural icons to promote Apple products: Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jim Henson, Maria Callas, Amelia Earhart, Muhammad Ali, Thomas Edison, and Pablo Picasso.

These icons revolutionized human thought, and by encouraging their consumers to “think different”, Apple is implying that its products can facilitate this very process within the individual. Thus, using countercultural icons in their advertising campaigns plays perfectly into the ideologies of the company.

According to Matthew Arnold, in his essay “Sweetness and Light”, “For as there is a curiosity about intellectual matters which is futile, and merely a disease, so there is a certain curiosity, – desire after the things of the mind simply for their own sakes and for the pleasure of seeing them as they are, – which is, in an intelligent being, natural and laudable.”

Arnold is illustrating that intellectual pursuit is worthwhile as an end unto itself, rather than as a means to an end. Arnold then further extrapolates upon this concept, and reaches the conclusion that culture itself is to be considered the study of perfection, “Culture is then properly described not as having its origin in curiosity, but as having its origin in the love of perfection; it is a study of perfection.”

The subsequent conclusion then must be that the intelligentsia is the driving force of cultural revolution. A study of perfection would have to begin with individuals such as those aforementioned in Think Different, rather than simply with anyone who can afford an iPod. Through its association with these individuals, Apple is associating its products with perfection itself.

Antonio Gramsci, in his essay “Intellectuals”, maintains that all people have the capacity to be intellectuals but not all are able to function as such within society. Gramsci creates a new breed of intellectuals, known as the organic intellectual, he says: “It can be observed that the organic intellectuals, which every new class creates alongside itself and elaborates in the course of its development, are for the most part ‘specializations’ of partial aspects of the primitive activity of the new social type which the new class has brought into prominence.”

Hegemony can be defined as the methods through which dominant groups maintain power over subordinate groups by having them consent to, or internalize, certain values. The role of the organic intellectual can, then, be seen as counter-hegemonic in nature, as being in opposition to the ideologies of the dominant culture.  From the revolutionary music of Lennon and Dylan to the revolutionary movements of Dr. King Jr. and Gandhi, these individuals epitomize the essence of counter-hegemony; by aligning their products with these individuals, Apple is staking claim to the revolutionary.

These intellectuals are the outlaws who oppose Gramsci’s “deputies”. As the opening of the Think Different slogan states, “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, rebels, troublemakers; the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently.”

While the alignment of its products with counter-hegemonic intellectuals gives Apple the “rebel” image, the paradox lays in the pricing of Apple’s high end products, certainly not in the price range of Gandhi or Dylan. The price of an Apple iPhone is $399, the new iPod Touch begins at $299, the MacBook from $1099, and the MacBook Pro from $1999. Each of these prices is considerably higher than those of its competitors. This natural paradox is an example of commodity fetishism, and by aligning their product with the intelligentsia, Apple is addressing the need of its consumers to think “differently”.

Certainly, the intellectuals presented here excite admiration, and it is for this reason that Apple chose them to represent their product.  However, despite the exalted qualities with which Apple is identifying its brand, it must be remembered that Apple is nonetheless a profit-driven entity, that is, a corporation. Therefore, the usage of organic intellectuals must, in fact, be taken with a grain of salt; for, despite the nobility of these figures, this nobility cannot be extended to Apple products themselves, even though the respective legacies of these individuals now play a significant role in sustaining consumer culture.

“Stay hungry, Stay foolish” is the bottom line from Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Satnford University on June 14, 2005.

Arnold, Matthew. “Sweetness and Light”. Culture and Anarchy. Ed. Samuel Lipman. New Haven: Yale University, 1994. 29-47. Print.

Gramsci, Antonia. Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Trans. and Ed. Geoffrey Smith and Quintin Hoare. New York: International Publishers, 1971. Print.

“Crazy Ones”. Narr. Richard Dreyfuss. Think Different. Apple Computer. 1997. Television.

‘You’ve got to find what you love,’ Jobs says (2005).