February 20, 2019

How Apple's AirPods came to carry so much cultural significance

Apple Airpods & earbuds cultural significance

Apple’s now iconic white AirPods and its earbuds could be seen as one of Apple’s most successful marketing tactics ever – why did it work so well? And one of 2018-2019’s most recognizable pieces of kit is undoubtedly Apple’s AirPods. The wireless white earphones have reached iconic status, outselling the iPhone at the same age. AirPods weren’t initially welcomed with open arms, much like most of Apple’s innovations. But, like most of Apple’s innovations, it didn’t take long for them to become the must-have accessory, bridging the gap between technology and style. 

At first, customers asked why AirPods were necessary, they do exactly what your old Apple earphones do, and surely the wire isn’t annoying enough to warrant spending $159. Turns out it is, big time. Coinciding with the upgrade of iPhones, and therefore the disappearance of the headphone jack, AirPods made more and more sense.

The white wire

Before the iPod, portable music devices were clunky, inefficient and downright ugly. In comes the iPod: white and sleek, controlled by a touch wheel and with the memory to hold 1,000 songs in your pocket. The iPod’s $399 price tag was beyond what people expected to pay for their music, and it didn’t take off until around 2 years later with the launch of the 3rd Gen iPod and the introduction of the iTunes Store. The iPod was officially the MP3 player to own, but the problem remained that when people listen to music, they stuff their iPod in their pocket and that way, nobody can see they are using an iPod. The decision to make the earphones white was purely incidental, they were white because the iPod was white. Fortunately, the white wire and earbuds formed what may be the strongest advertorial foundation for any product ever seen. Apple’s “silhouette” adverts were striking and memorable, marketing the feeling of owning an iPod rather than the iPod itself which is not the centre of attention.

Apple’s potent secret sauce

Apple prove time and time again that they have the ability to cross bridges that few others can. In the hands of Apple’s marketing department, electronic devices become cultural signifiers, even fashion statements. The desire to own and to be seen owning an Apple product is inescapable and frightening. Airpods pose perhaps the best possibility to exhibit your Apple ownership in 2019. They’re wireless, so convenient to have hanging out of one or both of your ears throughout the day; they’re white, so everyone can see them and recognize them. The iconic status of Apple’s design is strengthened with every new advancement, each of which is picked apart for the first month by the public: “They’ve gone too far this time, this won’t work.” But it does work, every time. Apple has found the recipe to success, and we’re eating up every last crumb of it.

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