This is about a subtle yet powerful force cleverly unleashed on unsuspecting poor ‘Us’ by organizations jockeying for leadership among peers. A shining example is none other than our favorite: Apple and Steve Jobs. There are many others. And, what is the play? Read on.
Today our personal and professional lives push us into a steady stream of binary (or ternary…) situations. So much so that taking a stand, warranted or not, has become an almost instinctive response for many of us. This sets up the game board and the dies are ready to roll for the organizations.
Again I’m dipping into an interesting article from Roger Dooley – though a little dated, is very much relevant for the day, I thought. Here‘s a slightly edited extract:
The Seminal Experiment
Psychologist Henri Tajfel in his experiments explored how easy or difficult it was to get subjects to identify with one group and discriminate against others. What he found was startling: with the most trivial of distinctions, he could create artificial loyalties to one group, who would then discriminate against those not in that group.
Tajfel tested subjects by having them perform a more or less meaningless task, like choosing between one of two painters or guessing a number of dots shown on a screen. Then, each subject was assigned to a group, ostensibly based on their answer. When the groups were formed and asked to distribute real rewards, they became loyal to their own group and were stingy with the other group. Many variations on this experiment have been performed subsequently, and they have shown that people can develop group loyalty very quickly even in the absence of real differences. Subjects even became emotionally invested in their meaningless groups, cheering for their own group’s rewards and mocking the other group
Tajfel’s experiments conclude people have an inherent tendency to categorize themselves into groups. They then base their identity (in part) on their group affiliations, and build boundaries to keep other groups separate.
Us vs. Them
In neuromarketing terms, our brains are hardwired to WANT to be in one or more groups. Brands that can be positioned to put their customers into a group will find that their efforts will be enhanced by their customers’ own need to belong. In addition, they will likely cultivate a dislike for other brand groups.
Jumping to Apple, look how they have leveraged an “Us. vs. Them” approach for decades. Their “1984″ commercial certainly drew a sharp distinction between the lone, attractive, athletic young woman and the lines of brainwashed drones.
A year later, Apple’s creepy and somewhat depressing “Lemmings” commercial continued to push people into one of two camps; they again portraying PC users as blindfolded businesspeople functioning like suicidal rodents following each other off a cliff.
Fast forwarding to today, look at the wildly popular Mac Guy vs. PC Guy ads. These in particular draw a sharp distinction – do you want to be one of the cool kids, or a dork?
Compare People, Not Products
Note the common characteristic of these, and many other, Apple commercials: they focus on the PEOPLE who use each product. These ads convey little or no actual product information, and instead mock PC users while portraying Apple users in a favorable way.
Certainly, other brands have successfully exploited this concept, both directly and indirectly. When in some experiments results showed Coke-branded cola lit up people’s brains (whether or not the beverage tasted was Coke or Pepsi) were people thinking of themselves as “a Coke person” vs. “a Pepsi person?” Recall the famous “Pepsi Generation” campaign – it was all about Pepsi drinkers as a group.
Car and truck makers haven’t worked the “us vs. them” angle very much in their ads, but their owner base has certainly picked up on the theme. Truck owners in particular seem to consider themselves part of groups, as shown by the ongoing animosity between Chevy people and Ford people, to say nothing of the clannish owners of HUMMERs.
Seth Godin echoes this thought, but states it in his own terms: “What people really want is the ability to connect to each other, not to companies. So the permission is used to build a tribe, to build people who want to hear from the company because it helps them connect, it helps them find each other, it gives them a story to tell and something to talk about…”
The ‘Us vs Them’ strategy is easily applied to products that are visible to others: appliances, dresses, etc. And, where there’s head-on competition and scaling up is needed as opposed to niche premium products.
The article expectedly produced some strong responses from the Apple user community with the center-point that the Apple products are truly superior and user’s decisions are rational; so what’s wrong with ‘Us’!
They seem to have missed Roger’s caveat: the appeal to the tribal instinct works only if it is backed by genuine positives.
Beyond marketing, could this clannishness be successfully leveraged in other areas of human endeavor such as in employee engagement and retention in an organization?
Source: Grateful thanks to Roger Dooley at http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/us-vs-them.htm, Seth’s Blog – Tribe Management at http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/01/tribal-manageme.html and powerbooktrance for photos.