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3 Reasons You (or Someone You Know) Crave the Apple Watch

The psychology of marketing explains the company's appeal.

skyme/Shutterstock.com
Source: skyme/Shutterstock.com

If you've found yourself craving an Apple Watch (even though you don't think you really need one), you're not alone. The device's recent unveiling was a social and media sensation.

Here are three insights about how Apple and other tech companies tap into our psychology to create desire:

1. The Slow Tease

A month ago, I was riding in an elevator in San Francisco (45 minutes from Apple headquarters) and noticed someone wearing what appeared to be an Apple watch. I asked him if it was indeed the unreleased watch. He said yes, but that I couldn’t touch it. Okay, no problem, but how about giving me a review? Nope, mum’s the word. Fine, at least tell me how it is that you’ve got one. No way.

I ambush people in elevators (and on planes, at parties and everywhere else I go) all the time. As a consumer psychologist, I’m always curious. And almost always people enjoy sharing their purchases and plans with me. But not this guy. And to be honest, I found the mystery and his aloofness to be highly intriguing (also maybe a bit humorous—especially the “don’t touch” part).

In effect, everyone has had an experience like my run-in with the Apple Watch guy. This has been one of the most protracted unveilings in history—Apple first announced the watch last September—and that slow striptease has so very much to do with our breathless anticipation of Apple’s smart watch.

Nothing against the watch, I love my many Apple products, but for those considering a new, pricey purchase, consider how much of your desire is real and how much is the result of emotional manipulation.

2. The Fetishization of Technology

Remember your first cell phone? Smartphone? GPS? If you’re old enough, you might remember your first computer and the thrill of typing without Wite-Out. We have witnessed one incredible innovation after another, and while the hits keep on coming, the emotional impact of those pioneer experiences is hard to duplicate. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want them. We absolutely do, so when Apple teases us with the promise of revolutionizing our lives (again!) we badly want to believe.

What’s more, technology has reached a level of fetishism in our lives. It instills a desire that extends beyond its mere functionality. When you watch Tim Cook describe the act of connecting the recharging magnet to the back of the Apple watch, he seems to be talking more about pleasure than technology or functionality. Apple’s marketing is about emotional connection. This is the company’s signature achievement but also a danger zone for consumers hoping to make rational purchases.

3. The Halo of Luxury

When Tim Cook introduced the top-of-the-line $10,000-$17,000 Apple Watch Edition his script was punctuated with the most potent words and phrases in luxury marketing. He began by stating that the watch was “unbelievably unique and very special.” He went on to describe it as “beautiful,” “custom,” “elegant,” “available in limited quantities,” and added that even the in-store display tables would be “beautiful,” “custom,” and the “ultimate experience.”

If we are already predisposed to like or want Apple products, these are exactly the right words and phrases to use. These amorphous platitudes tend to ignite emotion and yet slip right by the more critical parts of our brains. After all, is the watch really that "unique" when the look and technology are the same as their lower priced models, which as many as 22 million people could be expected to purchase? Is it really "custom" when it’s neither hand-made, made-to-order, nor hard to get?

Still, despite the vocabulary, few will be actually be able to stomach a five-figure price tag for something so fleeting. The high-end Apple Watch Edition is more technology than watch and therefore unable to capitalize on one of the most popular luxury watch rationalizations: “timelessness.” Consumers often justify luxury watch purchases because they believe the item will retain its value and can therefore be passed down to children or resold at a profit.

But despite the fact that few will purchase it, the $17,000 Apple Watch Edition was designed with the everyday shopper in mind—as a way to elevate the stature of lower priced models. All that luxury lingo rubs off to the lower priced versions. Consider: Next to a $17,000 price tag, $350 (or even $550) seems like a bargain.

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