It may not matter to some companies whether consumers think they're good or evil, but in the world of technology, where consumers can switch sites with a click or change ecosystems for a few hundred dollars, it means a great deal.
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has recently become extremely aggressive in manipulating its image. It is a highly proprietary, rigidly-controlled company, and journalists can deeply resent this control. Facing a skeptical media, Apple has chosen to respond with big actions:
Apple is not just doing this out of the goodness of its heart. Its enormous cash position, high margins and culture of secrecy negatively impact its brand image, and can impact sales.
In some ways it is copying Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), whose "don't be evil" mantra gave it a positive image in the tech world for years. And it's moving just as Google's image comes under fierce attack, with charges that it is tracking users of both Apple and Microsoft browsers, violating default privacy protections. Google calls those protections impractical but reporters are now urging the government to investigate its privacy practices.
All this public image-making (or unmaking) masks Apple's continuing game of legal hardball against Google, where it is playing both offense and defense in courts around the world. Its aim is to achieve a global monopoly on basic smart phone technology or, at minimum, make rival products unusable.
Normally, such actions would draw a very negative reaction from reporters, but Apple's actions on environmental and legal issues help shield it from this reaction.
Does this have an impact? Well, Apple's share price is up 24% so far this year, while Google's is down 5%. What do you think?