Last Updated: December 5, 2020

A man parks his tow-behind trailer at a diner and walks around to the back, carrying a laptop computer. He opens the trailer to reveal a black and white cow, and asks how he’s doing. Surprisingly, the cow talks back and rattles off several complaints. The man smiles and presents the cow with the laptop, who says in awed tones, “A Gateway?”

What does a cow have to do with computers? For Gateway, it’s a matter of branding. The series of Holstein Cow commercials for this major computer company reinforces Gateway’s distinct black-and-white cow patterned packaging, while appealing to the consumers’ sense of fun and entertainment with a talking cow.

Branding is just one form of marketing that relies on an understanding of consumer psychology. It’s also one of the most frequently used tactics for computer marketers, whose products typically represent a significant investment for the consumer. Professionals in the computer industry need a strong knowledge about what drives people to buy a certain brand, in order to play up the strengths of their products in their marketing messages.

The Psychology of Marketing Computers

Brand and CommercialExplanation of AdvertisementPsychological Response Elicited
Dell laptops “Lollipop”In a whimsical factory, workers sing a harmonious version of the well-known 1950’s song “Lollipop” while creating brightly colored Dell Inspiron laptops. A voiceover informs the viewer that “yours is here.”Personalized Value: Because Dell laptops are available in a wide range of colors, you can choose the one that’s just right for you—and it will make you as happy as the singing factory workers.
Sony VAIO “make.believe”Pop star Justin Timberlake describes his problems with media overload to a Sony employee, and they enter a large room where a monster constructed of Justin’s videos, photos, and music is terrorizing several people and vehicles. The Sony employee explains that their exclusive media gallery organizes everything. After pushing a few buttons, the monster collapses into neatly arranged piles.Celebrity Envy and Relief: Celebrity appeal is a strong motivator for many consumers who want to feel as if they are similar in some way to the celebrity. In addition, the promise of easy organization holds universal appeal and relief.
Compaq “Forget All Our Earlier Commercials”British comedy actor John Cleese apologizes for his previous Compaq commercial, in which he says he was promoting the wrong product. Following a humorous monologue, he ends with a statement to please forget all the earlier commercials.Humor: Laughter makes a message memorable, and John Cleese is a master of comedy. Consumers who view this commercial will remember it when they see a Compaq computer, and will associate this brand with good feelings..

How computer companies grab consumers

When it comes to marketing computers, brand is king. Most consumers don’t feel like they’re buying “a computer.” Instead, they’re buying a Dell, or a Mac, or a Compaq. When someone mentions that they have a new computer, the first question usually asked is, “Which brand?”

Computer marketers strive to develop brand loyalty, which keeps consumers purchasing from their company whenever they upgrade or replace their computers. Because computers are big-ticket items, rather than impulse purchases, brand loyalty is often the deciding factor in consumer purchases.

Bestselling Computers By Brand

For the fourth quarter in 2011:

  • HP shipped 14,712,266 units, for a 16.0% market share
  • Lenovo shipped 12,931,136 units, for a 14.0% market share
  • Dell shipped 11,633,880 units, for a 12.6% market share
  • Acer Group shipped 9,823,214 units, for a 10.7% market share
  • Asus shipped 6,243,118 units, for a 6.8% market share

Source: Gartner Newsroom: Press Releases

Differentiation is a popular branding strategy in the computer industry. Most computer marketers focus on the strongest aspect of their product ranges and reinforce that aspect throughout their advertising messages. For example, Toshiba’s campaigns often center on innovation and exciting new technologies, which contrasts with top competitor Compaq—a company that bills itself as reliable and comfortable.

Another popular psychological concept that helps marketers sell computers through branding is the “halo effect.” There are few electronics companies that only produce computers. Most of them offer an array of consumer electronics, such as Apple’s iPod and iPhone, in addition to computers. Through the “halo effect,” satisfaction with the company’s other products reflects positively on the same brand of computers, without the need to invest in computer-specific marketing.

While it may seem that features are the most important selling point for computers, the truth is that the brand counts more with consumers. Personal identity is a strong motivator for sales, and computer marketers work to ensure that the identity associated with their products is attractive to their target demographics.

The Eternal War: Mac vs PC

For Apple, branding is the number one strategy when it comes to selling computers. The Apple Macintosh operating system is vastly different from other PCs, and the hardware for the Mac, as it’s familiarly called, is unique—and proprietary.

Apple’s most successful marketing campaign was the long-running “Get a Mac.” This series of 66 commercials was simply designed: two characters against a white background, representing the personification of a Mac (played by Justin Long) and a PC (played by John Hodgman).

The advertisements were designed to appeal to consumers frustrated with the known problems of Windows-based systems, such as frequent crashes and incompatibility. By using a personified representation of the two operating systems, marketers appealed to the psychological function of relatability.

In 2008, when the first “Get a Mac” commercials were aired, sales of Apple computer exploded:

  • 50% of Macs sold through Apple retail stores were to first-time Mac users
  • The company achieved revenue equal to all sales in 2007 by the third quarter of 2008
  • Apple’s PC market share in the United States rose from single digits to 18 percent
  • The company earned a higher share of notebook sales than Dell, then the market leader, with 39 percent
  • In the U.S., one out of every three dollars of retail computer sales went to Apple

Source: 2008 Mac Sales Statistics

Marketing and psychology: A meaningful relationship

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The most successful marketers have a strong understanding of consumer behavior, and recognize the motivating factors that take people from wanting a product or service, to actually buying it. Effective advertising appeals to a consumer on either an emotional or a rational level, depending on whether they want or need the product.

Careers related to marketing computers

Content Production Manager

A content production manager oversees the development and creation of advertising components, such as radio and television commercials, print ads, and digital content. These professionals usually manage a creative team, and may work with external production providers, such as film crews. Content production managers require a strong understanding of consumer psychology in order to create effective marketing materials. Learn more about Content Production Managers.

Sales Representative

Sales representatives work to place manufacturers’ products in retail stores. A sales rep for a computer manufacturer might cultivate and maintain a relationship with Best Buy, a large retail electronics chain, who would then bring the company’s products to consumers. An effective sales representative must have a strong working knowledge of marketing psychology. This allows them to demonstrate to retailers why customers will be interested in the company’s products. Learn more about sales representatives here.

Where People Go Online for Consumer Information About Computers

Nielsen’s State of the Media: Consumer Usage Report lists the top 5 most visited computer and electronics websites for the month of November 2011:

  • Microsoft: 93.8 million visitors
  • Apple: 68.7 million visitors
  • Adobe: 28.0 million visitors
  • Mozilla: 25.7 million visitors
  • CNET: 23.5 million visitors

Source: Nielsen’s State of the Media: Consumer Usage Report