Steve Jobs’s Best Trick: Demonizing His Competitors

A move used by corporations, startups, and others

Photo via Shutterstock

In George Orwell’s “1984,” one of the main things the evil totalitarian state did to control its people was to foster the myth of a common enemy. How can you criticize poor education or a dysfunctional healthcare system when there are barbarians banging on our walls?

The same thing applies on an individual level. Whenever we see someone being overly aggressive or critical of others, we correctly judge them to “have unresolved issues.”

Steve Jobs never refrained from using less-than-ethical tactics to promote his business. For example, he never allowed any of his employees, including Jonathan “Jony” Ive, to be interviewed by the press or given credit publicly. Steve was mad when Time put the MacBook, not him, on the cover.

Steve Jobs Turned IBM Into an Evil “Big Blue” Corporation That Wants to Steal Our Freedom

But his best trick as a storyteller was taking a stand against an evil, unjust empire that wanted to destroy the bright creative light of an emerging tech company.

In 1984 — the year the first Macintosh was launched — that evil competitor had to be IBM. IBM was in hyper-growth mode in the ‘80s, more than doubling its multi-billion dollar revenues within a decade. “IBM wants it all,” Steve said in one of his shareholder meetings.

Reacting to his overly-serious tone, the public erupted in laughter. “Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money,” he continued, driving the public into hysteria. “Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear IBM-dominated-and-controlled future. They’re increasingly turning back to Apple as the only hope to ensure their future freedom.”

I’m not even joking, that is actually what he said when introducing the Macintosh. IBM became The Big Blue — a reference to Orwell’s The Big Brother.

Steve wasn’t joking either, but he did use humor expertly to soften his overly dramatic message.

And the public loved it. Seventy thousand Macintoshes — that cost over $6,000 in today’s money each — were sold that year, giving Apple its first mass-market success.

Steve Jobs Demonized Other Smartphones to Introduce the “Revolutionary” iPhone

As Apple grew, Steve Jobs dialed down his tone and stopped calling out competitors by names (*cough* Samsung *cough*.)

But the principle remained. During the iPhone launch in 2007 — which is arguably the most epic product launch ever — Steve systematically destroyed what he called “competitor phones,” comparing each feature to the naturally superior iPhone.

“Before we get into it, let me talk about a category of phones we call smartphones,” Steve said in a disdaining tone, emphasizing the last word.

He then went on to destroy each of the annoying features of the contemporary smartphones, instantly offering a superior iPhone solution:

Small, physical QWERTY keyboard on Blackberry that takes up half of the phone? iPhone has a virtual keyboard that is a part of the much larger screen.

A stylus you lose about twice a month? All the iPhone needs is your finger.

A semi-functional mobile OS? iPhone runs on the same operating system as your MacBook.

Apparently, to Make Friends, You Have to Define and Declare Your Enemies

In Steve’s words, it “works like magic.”

People never just randomly stop to think about what their dream phone would look like. But they do face annoying issues with their current phone all the time. Steve Jobs declared himself a sworn enemy to those annoying issues — winning over many, many friends.

I think this principle can be applied in most any area of life. For example, as a copywriter, I’ve often been asked to conjure bland, politically correct corporate mission statements. They would sound among the lines of, We at Company X believe in integrity, trust, and cooperation.

It’s like, OK, we get it. You’re an amazingly responsible company. But wouldn’t it be times more effective to say something like:

We hate people who lie to or manipulate others.

We don’t tolerate being late or pawning off assignments.

If you’re going to be all work and no play, this is not the place for you.

Sure, these are idiotic, over-the-top examples. But don’t they convey that much more meaning than the politically correct version?

In my personal life, I sometimes ponder why I like the things that I like. And my most recent conclusion is that I don’t actually just “like things.” There are simply so many things that I dislike that the few things that are left are the ones that I naturally like.

I think defining and declaring things you stand against is the first step to figuring out what do you actually want to stand for.

Like, I don’t go to the gym because I want to be a bodybuilder — I want to go because I hate being out of shape. I don’t write articles because I want to be rich — I write articles because I hate being poor. And I don’t say ‘no’ to some people in my life because I’m an arrogant asshole — I do it because I can’t stand investing years into the wrong person.

Apparently, then, a firm ‘yes’ is merely a result of a series of firm ‘noes.’ And, apparently, it works like magic.

Written by

In quest of understanding how humans work.

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