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Consumption Subcultures: The Community and Market Creation of the Mac Users

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    Consumption Subcultures:

    The Community and Market Creation of the Mac Users


                When it comes to computing products, there are the two dominating consumer groups: the PC users and the Mac users.  The popularity of the Macintosh/Apple products have not reached the growth and the reach of PC users; the market share of Apple computers remain to be behind the PCs (Fried, 2002).  However, in any case, Mac computers have created a certain cult as opposed to the more popular and widely-used Windows users; although there is the debate as to which operating system and computer serve the users best, the Apple/Mac community can be observed to have become an important market niche and segment, especially as Apple/Mac have become leading brand names in many computing technologies, from their laptops and desktops, to the widely popular iPods and iPhones.  In a sense, the Apple/Mac brand, as a consumer product, can be considered to have encouraged the formation of a community of users dedicated to the brand, its developments, and up to a certain extent, its elusiveness.

                Such formation of communities of Mac users reflects a subculture determined by consumption practices; apparently, the binding factor among Mac and Apple users is the combination of the product and brand.  Subcultures, in the context of consumption, are therefore driven by the association of identity with product, yet at the same time, it is also possible that a subculture group creates significant influence to the production processes thereby enabling the availability of products relevant to their cultures (Ekstrom & Brembeck, 2004).

    Community Creation in Consumption Subcultures

                Subculture in the context of consumption is defined by Schouten and McAlexander (1995, p. 43) as

    … a distinctive subgroup of society that self-selects on the basis of a shared commitment to a particular product class brand or consumption activity.  Other characteristics of a subculture of consumption include an identifiable, hierarchical social structure; a unique ethos, or set of shared beliefs and values; and unique jargons and rituals, and modes of symbolic expression.

                Common references to subcultures of consumption generally refer to the emergence of a counterculture typically prevalent among the youth, especially with the cultural revolutions that took place.  Countercultures, which are subcultures in themselves, usually highlight the emergence of a social segment bound by common interests such as music, values and even style.  For instance, the punk subculture gave way to members of the youth who have a strong appreciation for punk music, which would eventually reflect in their fashions and even in their lifestyles.  At the same time, there are also subcultures that are ethnic and cultural based, such as the Rastafarian subculture which generally demonstrates members of the society who have a tremendous appreciation, if not following, of the Rastafarian and/or Jamaican culture although they come from different ethnic and cultural groups.  The same way with religious/spiritual subcultures, from the fundamentalists to the Wiccans.  In any case, what makes these subcultures strong is the availability of elements that define the culture; this is to say that the punks will not be punks without the music and the leatherwear, and the Rastafarians will not be able to express a strong aspect of their identity without the music, the knitted bonnet in yellow, red and green threads, and even a few shirts and items with Bob Marley’s face.

                This therefore shows how subcultures have become a “currency” in the context of a subcultural identity (Beezer, 1992, as cited in Muggleton, 2000, p. 1).  Apparently, the formation of subcultures has been based on their assigned value in the society; in a study by Lenartowicz and Roth (2001), the authors found the value-based influence of culture to business performance thereby demonstrating that from a business perspective, the identification of subcultures was also the identification of motivational factors, especially among consumers.  Hence, as a motivational domain, these subcultures therefore become targets in any markets as products serve as elements and components that further establish one’s identity and association with a specific subculture.

                Apparently, the commoditisation of subculture products demonstrates a force that enables consumers to have a strong attachment to the cultural meanings of certain products.  As Schouten and McAlexander (1995) pointed out through several literature that have addressed subcultures and its position within the consumer market, these groups also end up forming hierarchies depending on the hard-core or high status followers of the culture and/or the product and that the tendency is that given a certain consumer response to a set of products and commodities, mass consumption is likely to take place.

                What is interesting is that the subcultures of consumption may be formed as driven by a product that represents a certain specific ideology; for instance, the punk subcultures were driven by music in which the music is based on anti-establishment thoughts or even as influenced by the emergence of modern art in the 1970s.  Even in religious and spiritual subcultures, these groups may be driven by manuscript if not objects that ensure significant influences and personal experiences guaranteed by these groups by means of their products or services.  Hence, these movements are not necessarily defined as restrictive other than the requirement that the “member” subscribes to the subculture by means of physical expression such as clothing and other products, and lifestyle, which is generally determined by products and defined practices as well.  In any case, these subcultures transcend the typical cultural barriers that are already a given as subcultures can be embraced out of choice.

    The Formation of the Mac/Apple Users Community and Subculture

                Up to what extent does a community of Mac/Apple users already create a subculture?  As computing products, it is inevitable that Macintosh and Apple are bound to have a strong following.  However, what makes this community interesting is that unlike Windows or PC users, the Mac/Apple users are more distinctive in terms of the formation of their groups.  As the computing platform itself is exclusive, the tendency is that die-hard Mac/Apple fans eventually create a subculture in which one’s computing products, from computers to peripherals, are only branded with the famous apple symbol.

                McKenna (1991) presents a very interesting point as to the success of Apple and its Macintosh computers despite the initial many weaknesses of the product; from its birth in the 1980s, despite its acclaim, Mac computers were found to be limited, nonexpendable, and with no applications software.  When the computer would evolve, the number of Mac computer users was small; the industry was being dominated by a rather flexible personal computer platform operated by the IBM system, and Mac users were only found among those who had to use the system.

                Therefore, when it comes to the early consumer viability of the Mac computers, the product itself was weak; however, it had a lot of potential.  The product would differentiate itself from other computer platforms, particularly the PCs, and interestingly, along with the modifications on the product, Apple also enforced a strong marketing strategy by means of dialogue with computer users (McKenna, 1991).

                Hence, what Apple did was in order to position its Mac computers, the company initially created a market (McKenna, 1991).  What Apple did at first was to position the Mac computers as strong desktop publishing machines, a segment that IBM did not have a significant grasp.  From this, Apple capitalised on the strengths of its Mac computers and operating systems, and this was to respond to the desktop publishing operations of many corporations.  Since then, Apple would develop Mac computers into consumer-friendly products with the launching of the iMac, the Powerbooks, and more recently, the Macbook, the Macbook Pro, the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro, along with other Apple consumer products such as the iPod, the iPhone, the Apple TV, and a host of software and applications further emphasising the graphics capabilities of the Apple machines.

                From these, how did Apple/Macintosh would manage to create a community of hardcore users?  Basically, this is based on the fact that unlike PC or Windows operated systems, the Apple/Macintosh products maintain a sense of exclusivity.  This is to say that although these products are flexible, unlike PC-based products, Apple products cannot be easily imitated or at least, replicated.  This shows another important marketing point of these products: they are unique.  Hence, if a Mac user purchases an MP3 player, the top choice is typically an iPod because an iPod’s operating system is easily compatible with Mac computers, the same way an iPhone is more conveniently operated and maximised using Apple computers.

                Another point of exclusivity is that Apple/Macintosh products, for a long time, have maintained a sense of elusiveness based on the social status implied by these products; for instance, Fried (2002) brought up in an article the possibility of Mac users being more intelligent than other operating systems users; the basis of this study is the demographics noted by an analyst of NetRatings in which Mac users were found to have ‘a greater affluence and education level’; this is also attributed to the fact that Mac computers are comparatively more expensive than other machines.  Hence, a Mac user only uses Mac computers whereas in Windows, for instance, the OS can be found in less expensive machines or even more expensive machines.  In any case, the appeal of the Macintosh computers is that in addition to its strong compatibility with the highly popular Apple brands, these computers are bundled, from system to software to machine.

                With the development of the product, the company would then establish a strong following of Apple and Mac users; unlike other operating systems which enable a hodge-podge of products that are generally compatible with the computing platform, Apple and Macintosh products and systems remain tight-knit.  As a result, the formation of Apple/Mac communities have become apparent as in the computing world, they are the minority; and similar to what Schouten and McAlexander (1995) mentioned, there are of course the social hierarchies among these groups, from the hardcore consumers to those who only have a general appreciation to these products.

                The formation of this subculture of consumption can be therefore seen in the common language used by its users; Apple/Mac talk is typically comprehensible among those who use it, especially those who know their way around the system and the machine.  There is also a noted collective stance in which the Apple machines are held more superior than other products, and arguments as to its advantage are mostly highlighted.  In addition, it can be also observed that there is a divide between Apple/Mac users and other OS users, particularly the Windows advocates who do not see the point of switching to Apple/Mac.  The strong following among Mac users has therefore resulted to a stronger position of the brand in the market, especially as Mac computers are being marketed to have the capabilities to operate both on Apple and Windows operating systems.  Hence, the continuous endorsement of product and brand superiority is another force behind the formation of the subculture (Ekstrom & Brembeck, 2004).

                In a sense, the strength of the collective appreciation of the Apple/Mac products, as reflected by the subculture formed behind the brand, also shows the shared values on how computing products should operate.  Hence, in addition to the status symbol of being a Mac user (which has been mostly associated with people from the creative endeavors or those who just basically like the design of the machines or those who can just afford them), there is actually a strong cultural and consumption message behind being a user or even an owner of these products.  As can be seen in the marketing of Apple products and Mac computers through its slogans, “Think different”, “Redesigned. Reengineered, Re-everythinged”, and “Thinnovation”, Mac computers are marketed as innovative and stylish; hence, there is the strong association between the product’s performance and image, and the impact brought by the consumption of these products or brand.  This therefore serves as an important force in the subculture of consumption.


                Mac users are generally a different group because they hold a special place in their consumption practices for Mac and Apple products.  The creation of Mac users groups and communities have led to the formation of a subculture in a world of computing products; the definition of this subculture still runs on the fact that Mac users remain in the minority, and in a way, this is maintained so because of the status symbol of being a Mac user.  What is interesting is that this subculture is only distinctive according to their computing product of interest, and the formation of the communities are based on their shared values and knowledge on how they believe computing products and systems should operate.  Other than the operating levels of Mac computers which Mac users strongly endorse, Mac computers have also become symbols of style and function, along with the popular Apple products.

                The distinction of this group, moreover, is determined by the economic aspect of the product; although there is a strong endorsement for Mac computers, it remains exclusive because of the price and the reality that most operating systems in the world run on Windows that can operate in less expensive machines.  Hence, product differentiation is another element that contributes to this subculture, and so far, it has been supported that the majority of Mac users’ demographics are only prevalent in certain socio-economic groups and not among the masses.


    Ekstrom, K. & Brembeck, H.  2004.  Elusive Consumption.  Berg, New York.

    Fried, I.  2002, Jul. 12.  ‘Are Mac users smarter?’  CNET News.  [Online] Available at:


    Lenartowicz, T. & Roth, K.  2001.  ‘Does Subculture within a Country Matter? A Cross-

                Cultural Study of Motivational Domains and Business Performance in Brazil’.   Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 305+.

    McKenna, R.  1991.  Relationship Marketing: Successful Strategies for the Age of the

                Customer.  Perseus Books, Cambridge, MA.

    Muggleton, D.  2000.  Inside Subculture: The Postmodern Meaning of Style. Berg,

                Oxford, England.

    Schouten, J. & McAlexander, J.  1995. ‘Subcultures of Consumption: An Ethnography of

                the New Bikers’.  Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 43-61.


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