Apple Pauses Business in Russia, Adding Pressure to Major Marketers Staying Silent

Tech giant sends symbolic message that adds pain to the Russian economy

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Apple’s move to “pause” doing business in Russia in reaction to its invasion of Ukraine may be viewed as merely political, considering the enormity of Western government sanctions against the former Soviet state. But as brands know, symbols carry their own particular potency.

The Cupertino tech giant joined Nike and Google as the two other largest global brands to denounce Russia’s attack by ceasing business operations in that country. Apple specifically said it was halting all exports into Russia and that Apple Pay and other services would be blocked.

“In the case of Apple, they are fulfilling their duty to stakeholders in stopping sales in Russia,” Sol Marketing founder and CEO Deb Gabor told Adweek. “While Russia is the 11th largest economy in the world, Apple’s sales in Russia represent less than 1% of its total revenue, demonstrating that their stand bears more reward than risk. And that upside would come directly from the benefits their actions have on the brand.”

Apple also pulled Russian state-controlled media properties RT News and Sputnik News from the App Store around the world. According to various reports, the App Store was still operating in Russia. (Adweek has requested additional details from Apple and will update accordingly.)

“We are deeply concerned about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and stand with all of the people who are suffering as a result of the violence,” Apple said in a statement. “We are supporting humanitarian efforts, providing aid for the unfolding refugee crisis and doing all we can to support our teams in the region.”

Meanwhile, advertisers are scrambling to sort out brand safety issues resulting from Russia’s war on Ukraine. In response to those concerns, Snap has stopped running all ads in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, which has served as a staging ground for Russian military incursions.

A leader and a follower

“Apple is always a leader, even when it’s a follower,” said David Berkowitz, svp corporate marketing and communications of omnichannel platform Mediaocean and founder of the Serial Marketers community. “It has a lot of company—Google, Disney, Meta, Dell, Nike, Ford, and many others are changing how they do business in Russia. Apple is also one of several that is cutting off both product sales and distribution of Russian media. So it can make a statement on multiple levels. Given the overwhelming unity of the EU, NATO, and Ukraine allies, this is more a statement as to how Apple views itself as a member of the global community.”

That consensus among Western governments and citizens that Russia’s on the wrong side of history should prompt more brands to make their own values and business activity clear with regard to this conflict.

“As I always say, taking a stand on a political or social issue is always risky, and companies need to proceed with caution,” Gabor said. “Since what people buy becomes part of their very identity, every company wishing to take action must think about their customers, their investors and their employees, and what’s ‘on-brand’ for those relationships. An organization’s brand should be the lens through which to make these decisions.”