The History and Development of the Consumer Behavior Odyssey


Russell W. Belk (1991) ,"The History and Development of the Consumer Behavior Odyssey", in SV - Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey, eds. Russell Belk, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 1-12.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2003      Page 1


Russell Belk, University of Utah, USA

Gulnur Tumbat, Univeristy 0f Utah, USA


In the beginning (of the Information Age) was the void. And the void was digital. But lo, there came upon the land, the shadow of Steven Jobs (and Stephen Wozniak). And Steven (Stephen) said, "Let there be Apple." And there was Apple. And Steven (Stephen) beheld Apple. And it was good. And Apple begat Macintosh. And it was good. And soon upon the land there began to appear, The Cult of Macintosh. For they had tasted of Apple. And it was good.

Although Apple Computer Corporation currently has less than 4 percent of the personal computer market, their customers are distinguished by their fierce loyalty to the brand and their personal identification with Apple’s Macintosh computers. Apple has nourished the corporate mythology that sustains this cult of loyal followers. There are several cultic myths involved here, as we show through historical corporate footage of Apple’s stockholders’ meetings, advertising, newspaper coverage, and corporate promotions. The myths involved include these:

* Creation MythBThe personal computer industry was started by Steven Jobs and Stephen Wozniak in Jobs’ parents’ garage. The sale of Jobs’ VW van and Woz’s two HP calculators are portrayed as sacrificial acts in this creation myth.

* Hero MythBSteve Jobs rise and fall within Apple Computers is a classic example of the Heroic Aventure myth as formulated by Joseph Campbell.

* Satanic MythBApple has faced two major Satans in its history, first the threat of IBM and currently the threat of Microsoft and Bill Gates. To the Cult of Mac, these opponents are evil incarnate.

* Resurrection MythBAs suggested by the title of Alan Deutschman’s book, The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, the founder’s forced departure from the corporation and his triumphant return as CEO on the eve of the company’s widely rumored demise, makes him a savior in multiple senses.

The video goes on to examine the feelings and beliefs of Mac owners, a local Mac Users Group (MUG), and the activities at several local Macintosh retailers. In addition to the mythological aspects referenced above, Mac believers engage in proselytizing and converting non-believers. They also espouse a belief that salvation can be achieved by transcending corporate capitalism. Ironically, this is something they pursue through their purchases of hardware, software, and peripheral equipment from a large corporation: Apple computers. Unlike arch-rival Microsoft, members of the Cult of Macintosh believe that Apple is not so much motivated by the desire to make money as it is by the desire to bring about the hierophany of offering the world truly "neat stuff." This neat stuff is seen as both the boon that restored the corporation to solvency and as the font of true beauty and wisdom in a world otherwise dominated by shallow corporate capitalism and hollow temptations meant to deceive and seduce. All this ties in nicely to a corporate name and logo that are redolent of the Garden of Eden story.

It is also significant that both founders of Apple, Steven Jobs and Stephen Wozniak, are regarded as trickster figures, like the young Krishna of Hinduism. This renegade rebellious image is also inscribed in corporate mythology through such legendary incidents as flying a skull and crossbones pirate flag over the corporate headquarters in Cupertino, California, Jobs parking his motorcycle inside the corporate building, and Wozniak’s once making "blue boxes" in order to make long distance phone calls without being billed. This spirit is continued in the surprise "Easter eggs" that Apple codewriters often embed in Mac software. Such legends, in addition to prominently remembered corporate advertising campaigns like the 1984 "Big Brother" campaign, the "Lemmings" commercial, and the more recent "Think Different" campaign, provide a counter-cultural image which members of the Cult relish. They share a sense of irreverence and derive identity from the parallel image of the company.

A part of the sense of righteousness among Cult members is achieved in opposing the "evil empire" of Microsoft and the "antichrist" of Bill Gates. Numerous humorous demeaning depictions of Microsoft were found in the homes and offices of these true believers (e.g., "Pendulum Processors: Satan Inside;" "Think Difficult;" "WindowsBa virus that you pay for"). Asked in projective questions what kind of vehicle Mac and PC/Microsoft would drive, the Mac was commonly seen as driving a fun VW bug or van, while Microsoft and PC were most often seen driving old Chevrolets designed to fall apart.

As the fervent loyalty of members of the Cult of Mac testifies, they have ennobled and sacralized the "cause" of Apple and vilified and profaned opposing brands in the marketplace. While there is some similarity to the brand communities identified by Muniz and O’Guinn, the subcultures of consumption researched by Schouten and McAlexander, Boorstin’s consumption communities, and Fine’s idiocultures, the concept of the brand cult developed in this video offers a richer and more complete metaphor for understanding the phenomenon of extreme belief in a brand and for appreciating the potentially all-encompassing role that consumer brands can play in our lives.



Russell W. Belk


SV - Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey | 1991

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