On the cusp of a a career-defining product launch, Tim Cook published an op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post opposing Indiana's new 'religious freedom' law and similar state laws meant to subvert equality for LGBT Americans.
America’s business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business. At Apple, we are in business to empower and enrich our customers’ lives. We strive to do business in a way that is just and fair. That’s why, on behalf of Apple, I’m standing up to oppose this new wave of legislation — wherever it emerges. I’m writing in the hopes that many more will join this movement. From North Carolina to Nevada, these bills under consideration truly will hurt jobs, growth and the economic vibrancy of parts of the country where a 21st-century economy was once welcomed with open arms.
What's most remarkable to me is that this statement has the explicit support of Apple and its board. Tim Cook could have made a big difference without drawing a direct (and public) connection to Apple. He could have called Gov. Mike Pence and other officials in Indiana personally (I hope he has done this, as it is as likely as anything to make a difference). He could have allowed himself to be interviewed about it for an article. He could have posted on his personal social media accounts. Or he could have written an op-ed as a private citizen, without explicit reference to Apple or its official positions. Instead, Cook and the company consciously chose to enter the conversation together.
Apple may claim that this was a purely moral decision, and that they made absolutely no effort to determine how it would affect the Apple Watch launch or the rest of their business before Tim Cook published the piece "on behalf of Apple."
I doubt it.1 And to me, that makes this moment significantly more important.
This could only have happened in a world where doing the right thing is acutally in the interests of Apple's bottom line. To paraphrase Joe Biden paraphrasing Seamus Heaney, hope and history may have begun to rhyme.
I don't know what Apple's primary demographic targets are for the watch in the United States, but among all Americans under 50, support for equal marriage rights is nearing 70%. If you only count people who own iPhones -- the only people for whom the watches will be usable -- that number is probably higher based on geography, education, and income.
I, for one, am more comfortable with the idea of wearing an Apple-branded device on my wrist today than I was last week, because I know that the company stands for something that is obvious to me and yet controversial to too many others.
Put that way, this could could be a case study in earning brand loyalty2 from a generation of consumers that has (so far) been characterized by disillusionment and indecisiveness.
- Frankly, I hope Apple did some polling (or some other kind of research) before this was rolled out, because it isn't worth it unless they have a plan in place that they expect to work. The modern gay rights movement has been extremely strategic, and that has been key to its rapid progress. There can't be story next month about how the Apple Watch missed expectations because of Tim Cook's quixotic obsession with equal rights. Apple has a responsibility to either play the game strategically or stay out of the pool.
- While too often "branding" is used as a synonym for "unaccountable PR expenditure," a customer's willingness to publicly associate with a company (or brand) is undeniably important -- especially when the company sells watches.