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  • Writer's pictureAlberto Gastelum

The Success Story of AirPods

March 4th, 2021

By: A.J. Gastélum

Walking around just about anywhere, you can instantly spot someone wearing AirPods. People use them for everyday music, workouts, phone calls, online classes, and work meetings. Especially in the US, with Apple’s iPhone being the dominant phone of choice, AirPods have become the default wireless listening device. But how did Apple manage to market a completely unnecessary accessory into an iconic product? And what external factors made that possible?

AirPods were introduced in 2016 just a few minutes after Apple announced the beginning of their long journey removing ports from their devices. After creating the problem of an iPhone 7 without an audio jack, Apple conveniently toted an expensive solution: AirPods. At $159 they were many times more expensive than Apple’s regular wired earbuds, and at the higher end of the bluetooth earbuds market. Dozens of cheaper alternatives existed, AirPods even competed with Apple’s own wired earbuds sales. It was uncertain whether AirPods would take off.

But like many Apple products, they were an international success. Within one year AirPods were the most popular wireless earbuds in the market, within two years they became Apple’s most popular accessory, and today they are a $10 billion dollar business. How did it happen?

Persuasion Knowledge Model, Freistand and Wright 1994

Convincing People to Buy a New Product

In marketing, the idea of understanding a consumer is one thing, but convincing them to buy a product is a lot more complex. This model is one way of looking at that intended persuasion. One of the most interesting things it shows is that persuading, especially in marketing, is fairly obvious. Most people, no matter what they know about marketing, can tell what a company is trying to do when they market: sell you something. In the case of AirPods, Apple had to factor in how people would react to their persuasion attempts when marketing their product.

In Apple’s early advertisements for AirPods, they don’t focus on AirPods as a high quality music product. In fact, they couldn’t, because wired headphones generally allowed for a cheaper and higher quality listening experience. So Apple introduced them as a way of connecting devices, an easy, convenient way to listen to music and take calls on the go. That simplicity and comfort from knowing that AirPods simply work caused people to buy them. People could choose other earbuds for better sound quality or battery life, but Apple created a product that was reliable as an everyday accessory in any situation.

Apple was far from the first company to develop bluetooth earbuds. Bluetooth earpieces have been around for many years. But Apple helped to sell the idea of bluetooth earpieces as a consumer accessory to the public. No longer were earpieces big and clunky, the hallmark of business people in suits; now, they were sleek, shiny, and cool to own.

Social Impact and Status Symbols

AirPods quickly became immortalized across the internet. They quickly became a status symbol, something for people to show off. Jokes, videos, memes, and celebrities gave free press to Apple’s newest accessory, transforming it from more than a listening device, to a fashion accessory, a symbol of prestige. This was equally as important as the functionality of AirPods, and was a key driver to making them ubiquitous today.

Apple built on this popularity by growing the Airpod line up. In the next few years they launched AirPods 2 & 3, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max. The popularity of AirPods effectively legitimized the bluetooth earbud industry, and caused a surge in competing products. The success of the original AirPods is a story of successful marketing and cultural iconicism, and demonstrates valuable methods of marketing persuasion.


AJ Gastélum is one of the Co-Content Directors this semester. He is a sophomore at NYU Stern studying Marketing with a minor in Studio Art. Check out his other articles on the blog!

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