Apple conflict proves the power of reputation

See those white earbuds? They are probably connected to an iPod playing iTunes’ newly higher-priced Whitney Houston songs. That high-pitched marimba sound muffled by a coat pocket while a hand searches frantically to silence it? Chances are it’s an iPhone. That man running quickly from a coffee shop? He probably just “stole”: an iPad.

Apple products dominate this campus. Walking into any of the libraries after 9 p.m., it would be hard not to notice the presence of the glowing white apple backed by a textured aluminum case. I would venture to say that the number of Dell, HP, Lenovo and Sony computers combined equals the number of Apple MacBooks at any given time in the libraries.

With this company’s stocks jumping over the “$500-per-share”: threshold last Monday and projected to rise even higher yet, it seems that it virtually rules every realm of the technological world.

Then a Chinese company, Shenzhen Proview Technology, decided it wanted a slice of Apple’s success in the technological world when it began seizing iPads in several Chinese cities over a week ago, citing a trademark violation by Apple.

In order for Apple to buy the rights to the name, Proview may ask the company to pay as much as “$2 billion”:

That just goes to show how much a name and all of its connotations, reputations and associations are worth.

Companies spend billions of dollars each year polling the public and doing research to develop branding strategies to better sell their products. You can bet that when Starbucks removed the words that encircle the now-larger cartoon siren logo in 2011, months of design, analysis and research informed the change. The logo change was such a big deal that Starbucks wrote a “blog post”: on March 7, 2011, that asked its customers to not be angry with the change.

University names today are similarly interpreted as brands. The name of a university tells the rigor of the school’s academia, virtually predicates the success of its students, regardless of GPA or academic performance and sets the credibility of information created by students and faculty.

With all things held equal, such as textbooks used, classes taken, teaching quality and GPA attained, a diploma that says “Harvard” will almost always trump one that has a state college’s name. This is one of the reasons that private colleges, like Harvard, can set their tuition so high; students want to attend because of the school’s reputation, and employers want to hire from there on the same grounds.

In his 1998 best-selling book, “The 48 Laws of Power,” author Robert Greene writes, “Reputation is the cornerstone of power.” Despite the axiom, “actions speak louder than words,” a well-established reputation can speak louder than action. The simpler the reputation is, the more awe it can invoke in competition and consumers.

Apple’s reputation could be described as sleek, efficient, beautiful or reliable, but for many, the company’s reputation is simply, “Apple.”

It’s no wonder then that Proview would lust after a chance at usurping some of Apple’s market share since it looks to be worth billions in China. More than that, the media will continue to focus on this dispute until the very end, giving the Chinese company worldwide recognition that it didn’t previously have. In this case, any attention, even if it is bad, is still attention.

It may seem that Proview is tarnishing its name by what some would say is effectively stealing the Apple trademark, but it isn’t. Names are but associations with various ideas and beliefs that people hold, so if Proview associates itself later with a more respected cause or business practice — even with all of its recently attained recognition — it could reconstruct its name. Who knows? Maybe it will be regarded as a legal genius capable of taking advantage of prosperous legal loopholes.

Apple has faced yet another blow to its reputation of “recent”: Last Monday, the New York Times ran several stories about Apple giving into fair labor inspection after years of refusing to be subjected to such scrutiny, after claims that its Chinese laborers at one of its suppliers, Foxconn, work in horrendous conditions.

Although it is associated with such sweatshop conditions, Apple’s previously established reputation precedes any of its wrongdoings, so long as Foxconn implements the better “conditions”: it has promised.

Juliet Capulet proclaimed, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” But I have to ask, was she right? I think not.

_Ryan is a sophomore in LAS._