Foxconn: Is the “Halo Effect” Shielding Apple from Fallout?

Oct 15, 2012

By: Vanessa Horwell, Chief Visibility Officer

Almost a century ago, a psychologist named Edward Thorndike first identified the “halo effect” as a cognitive bias wherein our outwardly impression of something or someone affects our overall judgment of them, in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

In Thorndike’s study, soldiers with firmer voices, stiffer postures, more clean-cut looks and more energetic attitudes were judged to be more intelligent, dependable and fit for leadership by commanding officers (regardless of whether those opinions reflected reality) than their scruffier-looking and more laid-back comrades.

That bias, it seems, is still very much in control of our “senses” today.  In fact, maybe the halo effect is what’s keeping increasingly socially-conscious consumers from turning on Apple when reports of riots, multiple suicides and inhumane working conditions at the mammoth barracks-cum-factory Foxconn compounds (which manufactures Apple’s obsessively-adored gadgets) make headlines.

Why am I singling out Apple, and its cohorts? Because I’ve yet to see enormous crowds of ridiculously-overexcited people camping overnight on city sidewalks, or paying someone $1,500 to hold their place in a queue to be the very first to snag the latest Samsung or HTC smartphone. If you have, dear reader, please let me know and I will happily retract this blog post.

Until that time, I’ll continue with my commentary…

Perhaps Apple’s status as the world’s most valuable company of all time acts as a shield that protects its brand and its bottom line from controversy. I give you the “halo effect.”

In fact, it’s become somewhat of sovereignty, or an untouchable deity. But maybe, just maybe, Apple’s influence and value as a Foxconn customer – and also as the world’s second most valuable brand  is convincing those in power at Foxconn that cleaning up their act and improving conditions at the compounds where its workers also live, may boost own its image and bottom line.

After all, many big brands have weathered storms of criticism and perhaps none is a better example than Coca-Cola, the world’s most valuable brand and top purveyor of chemical-laden fizzy sodas.

Over its 120-year history, and particularly in the last 20 years, The Coca-Cola Company has been accused of a wide catalogue of misdeeds, including:

  • Helping to make vast millions of Americans fat
  • Supporting the racist apartheid regime in South Africa
  • Monopolizing the water in parts of India where the company has bottling plants
  • Bribing pediatric dentists to stop advising patients to refrain from drinking Coke

And many more.

Yet, despite all the sound and fury sent its way, the company’s flagship brand remains the planet’s most popular soft drink. Why? Because the brand has a halo around it, created by love of its main product, its representation by many popular celebrities and, of course, decades of very clever marketing.

To be sure, not every brand can be a Coke or an Apple, but any brand would do well to remember that working to imbue itself with a halo – through great products, thoughtful marketing and philanthropic efforts – can help perpetuate its popularity and profitability far into the future.

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