Superbrands' success fuelled by sex, religion and gossip
- 17 May 2011
- From the section Business
Before filming Secrets of the Superbrands, I'd never been to a porn shoot, and in my wildest imaginings I never thought the reason I'd end up at one would have anything to do with filming a documentary about the world's most powerful technology brands.
My mission was to find out how these brands - such as Apple, Microsoft and Google - have grown so explosively to become some of the world's biggest companies.
I toured three continents to visit their headquarters, talk to fans and find the inside story on why we hand over our money to them.
So there I was in a seedy nightclub in a Los Angeles suburb to meet Samantha Lewis, chief executive of adult entertainment studio Digital Playground, a company that for many years has been at the forefront of using new technology in the adult industry.
I was surprised to learn that they have been trailblazers for iPads, HD and 3D.
While the rather distracting business of photographing a naked woman was going on right behind me, Samantha told me that many technology brands used the adult industry to test new markets, albeit in absolute secrecy.
Why? Well, the sheer scale of the industry is such that you ignore it at your peril.
And it appears to have driven the take-up of several new technologies.
Sony, for instance, would not allow adult films to use its Betamax format in the 1980s and so the huge business in adult videos went to its rival VHS, hastening the end of the former.
Having lost out in the 80s, Sony wasn't taking any chances when it came to the battle between its Blu-ray format and Toshiba's HD-DVD.
This time around they're playing ball with the porn industry.
But I discovered Blu-ray's success was not all down to moral compromise: there was another revelation during my trip to Los Angeles.
A company called iSuppli reduced my PlayStation 3 to a pile of screws, chips and diodes in order to work out the manufacturing costs, and I was astonished to find Sony had been losing money on every one it's sold.
This is partly because it has been giving away a free Blu-ray player in every one, making the PlayStation a games console and HD movie player in one box.
So, with 41 million PS3s sold to date, they've lost about £2bn, but captured a huge share of the market.
As they're making money on every Blu-ray disc sold, and HD-DVD has now died a death, it appears to have been a gamble worth taking.
All brands crave customer loyalty, but I wanted to know why and how a technology brand inspired religious fervour.
The scenes I witnessed at the opening of the new Apple store in London's Covent Garden were more like an evangelical prayer meeting than a chance to buy a phone or a laptop.
The strangeness began a couple of hours before the doors opened to the public. Inside the store, glassy-eyed staff were whipped up into a frenzy of excitement, jumping up and down, clapping and shouting.
When the doors finally opened, they hysterically "high-fived" and cheered hundreds of delirious customers flooding in through the doors for hours on end.
And what did those customers - some who'd travelled from as far away as the US and China and slept on the pavement for the privilege - find when they finally got inside?
Well, all the same stuff as in the Apple store half a mile away on Regent Street. No special offers, no free gifts (a few t-shirts were handed out), no exclusive products. Now that's devotion.
I searched high and low for answers. The Bishop of Buckingham - who reads his Bible on an ipad - explained to me the similarities between Apple and a religion.
And when a team of neuroscientists with an MRI scanner took a look inside the brain of an Apple fanatic it seemed the bishop was on to something.
The results suggested that Apple was actually stimulating the same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith.
Witnessing the sheer scale of technology's takeover up close was breathtaking. Facebook didn't even exist seven years ago; now the brand is worth £32bn.
In India I visited Nokia's biggest phone factory, churning out handsets at a time when India alone is adding 20 million new mobile-phone subscribers every month.
How can this be possible? I asked people from the slums of Delhi to the streets of London and Chicago who they call most on their mobile phones and the answer was always the same: friends and family.
Like Apple, mobile phones and social networks offer an opportunity for us to express our basic human need to communicate.
And it's by tapping into our basic needs, like gossip, religion or sex that these brands are taking over our world at such lightning speed.
That's not to say that clever marketing and brilliant technical innovation aren't also crucial, but it seems that if you're not providing a service which is of potential interest to every one of the 6.9 billion human beings on the planet, the chances are you're never going to become a technology superbrand.
Secrets of the Superbrands is on BBC Three at 2100 BST on Tuesday, 17 May. Or watch online via iPlayer at the above link (UK only).