Apple’s Mac mini, product of marketing genius?

By: Sander Sassen

I was at a computer convention a few weeks ago talking to some of my colleagues when the editor in chief of a leading printed publication walked up to me and asked whether I own an iPod. I hesitated to reply for a moment as we were in the middle of a conversation which he interrupted. I paused for a moment longer to look at him once more; he didn’t strike me as a stereotype iPod user that you see on MTV, he simply lacked the bling-bling and he was not in his teens or twenties anymore. I then proceeded to tell him, with the eyes of my fellow journalists fixed on me in a gaze, that I do not own an iPod as I simply have no use for it. ‘You don’t have a use for it?’ he blurted out, his eyebrows raised as if he was puzzled why someone that intimate with computers would not want to own something as hip and fashionable as an iPod. He laughed and walked off to join his friends at their table and kept glancing our way when he told them that I don’t own an iPod as I have no use for it.

My fellow journalists that moments before the interruption were discussing intricate details about pixel pipelines used in graphics processors all looked at me funny, then one of them broke the silence and said ‘Did that guy just brag about owning an iPod?’. We all burst out in laughing; apparently the idea of a guy in his mid-30s bragging about owning an iPod struck us all as a bit childish. But what we’ve just witnessed is the sheer power of Apple marketing, the iPod being the must-have gadget for every teen or fashionable person in their 20s. But their marketing strategy has apparently also influenced the, perhaps subconscious, minds of other people that want to own a cool gadget, no matter whether they have any use for it but just to be able to hang with the crowd or own something that is considered cool by the vast majority of people apparently has appeal too.

A few days ago, shortly after the launch of the Mac mini, I witnessed something remarkably similar. I attended a press briefing with a few fellow journalists and one of the marketing specialists of the company presenting their new products asked us what companies we feel will make an impact on personal computing this year. Three out of four journalists that were in this conversation replied with ‘Apple’. Obviously the marketing specialist asked why and again all journalists gave a somewhat similar reply. The launch of the Mac mini as a fashionable mini-PC, an iPod on steroids that can also be used to check email, surf the web or burn your iPod songs to DVD or CD is targeted at exactly the same audience that bought an iPod. This strategy, and the low price of the Mac mini, will likely create a demand much like we’ve seen with the iPod.

I sat there baffled, quietly sipping my drink wondering whether I was the only one privy to that conversation that does not buy products because they’re cool and hip, but because they’re functional and of use to me. But then the ominous question was raised again, much like a few weeks ago; whether I own a Mac mini or would consider buying one? Again I replied that I don’t have use for it, but now being faced with different, questioning looks from my fellow journalists. Apparently this new Apple gadget was geeky enough for them to want to own one. Apparently something that was not cool, hip and fashionable before – a personal computer – has suddenly become just that and they had every intention to buy one to be able to identify themselves with the cool, hip and fashionable image Apple has been touting for the iPod and now the Mac mini.

So has Apple got an ace up their sleeves with the Mac mini? Potentially yes, especially if they are going to promote it in much the same way as the iPod and by the looks of it they are. This will not bode well for all of the not-so-cool-looking computers that are now sold by manufacturers such as Dell. If the Mac mini indeed sees strong sales this will likely spawn a whole new breed of mini PCs, styled much like the Mac mini, but with PC hardware at work inside. I doubt things will be ‘easy as Dell’ for the PC manufacturers though, as much like Creative Labs with their Zen, it will not be easy to dethrone Apple. In the end Apple’s marketing strategy for the iPod is all about owning something hip, cool and fashionable and is now also being applied to the Mac mini, and much like there’s only one Gucci, there can only be one Apple.