Bendgate: 5 Things Apple Will Do Next

There are at least two ways to revitalize a broken brand image: redesign the product or redesign people's expectations around the experience of consuming the brand. Guess which path Apple will choose!

Botox gives you a frozen face, Olestra causes diarrhoea, Coke causes cancer, Starbucks is a capitalist monster. Many brands suffer from doppelganger brand images - negative images and meanings about a brand that compete with the brand owner's intended image (see references below). Now it's Apple's turn with Bendgate - the newly discovered flaw in the iPhone 6 in which the screen can bend. Apple may offer a new phone to affected consumer or change the phone's design in the next round. For now, based on historical record (e.g., Antennagate), it will use emotional branding tactics to redesign culture, consumer expectations - in short - the entire iPhone 6 experience. To pursue this goal, Apple (and Apple fans) will argue that...

1. All Phones Bend! (Generalization)

One popular brand image revitalization tactic is to move the problem away from the specific product to the entire category. Saying that bending is a key feature of all phones - be they LG, Blackberry, Samsung or Apple - and thus shifting the frame from the specific to the general will de-emphasize the problem for Apple and make bending phones like empty printer cartridges or expired yoghurt - a fact of life.

2. Don't you know Physics? (Authorization)

A second brand image revitalization tactic often encountered during doppelganger brand image crisis is authorization - bringing in the power of science and experts in to "normalize" a particular behavior of an object such as an antenna or a piece of aluminium. Through this move, critics will come across as luddites who have slept through their physics lecture whereas iPhone users have done their science homework.

3. Have a look at our people! (Humanization)

A related tactic to downplay a doppelganger brand image is humanization - here presenting Apple's iPhone development team. Showing how the people develop the product humanizes the production process - it shows personal dedication and care and, thus, reframes Bendgate as an unfair caricature of  passionate and hard working people who sacrifice time with their families for the greater good.

4. Handle it like a pro! (Capabilization)

Fourth, a bending phone is never the result of faulty R&D. Rather, it just happens as a result of improper handling. Here Apple will shift responsibility from the material level or development process to the individual consumer. Apple may take the stage very soon or post videos that demonstrate how phones ought to be handled or held properly - and how not to. Consequently, whoever has a bent phone is rendered incompetent or hasn't simply followed the rules.

5. Tight pants aren't cool (Ridiculing)

Lucky for Apple, Bendgate has already been associated with tight pants. So, on the same note of shifting societal expectations rather than changing the product itself, Apple may likely de-emphasize Bendgate by associating it with consumer vanity or lack of sense of fashion. Tight pants say more about bad consumer taste than about the quality of the iPhone.

6. Bonus Tactic: Minimization

Lastly, Apple may take the wind out of Bendgate's sails by claiming that only a very small number of consumers have actually complained about their iPhone being bent, thereby reducing the brand image crisis to a creation of unfair competitors or sensationalist bloggers.

Well, they actually just did.

Markus Giesler

York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Canada

Markus Giesler draws on concepts from economics, technology studies, and sociology to inform his research in marketing. He determines how ideas and things (products, services, experiences, technological innovations, intellectual property, brands, etc.) are made valuable over time, with research focused on improving marketing strategy through an understanding of markets as evolving social systems. Giesler's research has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the European Research Council (ERC) and published in top-tier academic journals such as the Journal of Consumer Research and the Journal of Marketing. Giesler has an extensive entertainment industry background. He founded his own record label at age 17 and has worked in various production and marketing responsibilities for over a decade. He lives in Toronto, Canada.