December 29, 2006
Steve Jobs, Trust and the Apple Brand Name
The recent news that has seen Steve Jobs embroiled in a stock options scandal is a potential disaster for the Apple brand name.
It could not come at a worst time: just before Macworld Expo and before the launch of Apple's seemingly inevitable and much anticipated mobile phone, which Paul Colligan claims will be named the iPod Phone.
Noah Brier has a very timely article up about "trust, brands and transparency" that addresses the problem. Super brands like Apple have a burden of trust placed on them that simply demands absolute transparency and honesty in all their dealings.
In Apple's case, the burden is doubled because Steve Jobs is a tremendous part of Apple's brand equity. Crudely put, Jobs is to Apple what Richard Branson is to Virgin. His name is indelibly associated with Apple and anything that brings that name into disrepute lessens the Apple brand.
Steve Jobs is the anti-hero to the arrogant greedy executive, the kind of CEO teenagers can relate to: casual, honest, hip and cool. He stands for everything the Enron and WorldCom execs did not. This is why the recent SEC investigation into the possibility that Jobs grabbed 7.5 million Apple shares from the company's coffers without board consent has raised an undercurrent of fury on the Internet.
But I am loyal to the brand because I'm a fan of Steve Jobs and believe he is "conducting" a brilliant team of engineers, as the Independent puts it. If Apple were the Grateful Dead, he's its Jerry Garcia and there ain't no tunes from Cupertino if Jobs ain't on the job.
But the day they prove that Jobs is a crook, well, that's the day Apple becomes just another grubby, overpriced tech shop fronted by a greedy ex-hippie with a slick shtick. That's the day I walk as a consumer. Note well, Mr. Jobs: Like Caesar's wife, brands that are personality cults to the CEO need that CEO to be above suspicion.
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