Irrational Brand Attachment

For years, I’ve thought about – with a combination of amusement and amazement – the incredible, and irrational, attachment people have to sports teams. Never have gotten around to writing a blog post about it, until I read Seth Godin’s post this morning about Irrational Commitment.

Seth talks more about the irrational commitment of parents and entrepreneurs, but from a marketing and branding point of view, the perspective applies to sports teams.

Now I consider myself to be a pretty rational and pragmatic sort – perhaps overly so. I am not a season-ticket holder for any team, I do not glue myself to the TV for every game, I don’t go around wearing uniform shirts for any sports team. Yet, growing up in central Connecticut, I was a Red Sox fan (baseball) and New York Giants fan (football), and still, to this day, there is an irrational attachment to those teams. And, I am really happy that Vanderbilt’s football team cracked the Top 25 this week!

Here’s the thing: there’s really no reason for it. It’s a bunch of overpaid guys (well, the pros anyway), who really have no necessary regional attachment, whom I don’t know in the least – but because they happen to have a home stadium somewhere in an area meaningful to me (I live there, or used to, or went to school there), there is attachment. And for the fanatic, that can mean shelling out hundreds of dollars to attend games, buy swag, wear shirts and hats with the gang markings, etc. etc. And, in some cases (especially soccer in other countries), getting into serious and even deadly fights.

It makes no sense. Yet those logos, those uniform colors, that team name, somehow become an extension of us, even when all the faces have changed.

Talk about marketing nirvana! If only we could have customers with THAT kind of fanatical, even irrational attachment!

There, I finally got that out of my system. What do you think? Why do we get so irrationally attached to teams in this way??

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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

2 Responses to Irrational Brand Attachment

  1. Brett says:

    I believe sports teams are one of the best examples of what brands are actually capable of.

    Cubs fans are very different than White Sox fans, and that’s due to a lot more than just the league you prefer. It’s an extension of how you grew up, what you appreciate, what you despise and what you’re proud of.

    Same goes for Yankees/Met, Cowboys/Eagles, Kentucky/Louisville, Lakers/Celtics. And everything in between.

    The team you root for says A LOT about who you are. So do all powerful brands.

  2. You see the same thing with Apple, BMW, Harley Davidson and Ferrari: Rabid fanaticism – decals on cars, at least one T-shirt, baseball cap or backpack with the logo on it, a poster somewhere in the house, etc. Call it Tier-one fanaticism.

    Tier-two fanaticism is a little less rabid. That kind of fanaticism isn’t completely grafted to the individual’s identity, but it certainly plays a big role in defining it. Here, you won’t get the T-shirts and car decals, but the loyalty (or rather VERY strong and vocal preference) will go above and beyond the norm. Examples: Starbucks, Nike, Chanel, Gucci, The North Face.

    You could argue that this type of irrational attachment comes from simple projection: The brands become vessels for the attributes of very specific archetypes that people can’t carry themselves. Antiquity had gods for everything: Strength, inspiration, sensuality, anger, speed. Now we have brands. Humans have always had a need for cultural vessels like these. When they project onto people, they call them icons (Madonna and Britney Spears got to carry female sexuality for a while. Sly Stallone and Bruce Willis got to carry masculinity for most of us in the same way. And so on). When they are brands, they call them lovebrands.

    Teams are a little different. We’re talking about tribal impulses here. Same hard-coded origin, but a slightly different variation on the theme: Athletic teams carry for us our competitive spirit and our need to belong to a clan. Back when social groups hunted mammoth and caribou together, this need was met on a first person basis. Now that we have lost these team dynamics in our daily lives, we use professional or college sports to fill that need. Wearing the clan colors, painting our faces and showing the whole world who what clan/team we belong to is thousand-year old pagentry’s evolution.

    The world around us has changed, but people haven’t (at least not at the same rate). A brand that can tap into these basic human needs and understands how to become a vessel for very specific archetypal elements of our personality will score every time: Sexuality. Sophistication. Intelligence. Creativity. Athleticism. Power. The list goes on.

    Irrational = subconscious + physiologically hard-coded

    Great post, as always.

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