Why Emotional branding and Behavioural economics are so tightly associated with the marketing of sport.

I’m going to share an experience with you that made me realise I was so completely immersed in a brand that even though I thought I could wean myself off it, almost completely exclude it from my active pursuit of life, entertainment and cultural consumption a single shot, like an alcoholic, brought me right back to an almost preternatural state.

A state of dependance.

My following of Hibernian Football Club is not, of course, preternatural because I’m not from a ‘Hibby’ family.  I wasn’t wired before birth to scream 7 – 0 as my first words.  And I haven’t indoctrinated my kids into the ‘Hibby’ way.

But for many years it was part of my Saturday ritual with friends; beer, fags, football (the Hibees), beer, fags and a Chinese Take Away. That’s what I did.

Then inexplicably, I stopped.  Family got in the way, golf got in the way, theatre got in the way.  Ticket prices got in the way.

“You’re no a proper fan.”

“You just turn up for the big occasions.”

Yes, all true.  Guilty as charged.

But it changes nothing.

Because it became clear to me on a wet and windy  Tuesday night, last week, that I remain completely consumed by the emotional strength of this magnificent brand.

Some of the explanation can be found in Behavioural Economics theory and its explanation of emotional branding.  The words of Dan Ariely from his paper, Behavioural Economics: An Exercise in Design and Humility, is quite apposite..

“There are lots of biases, and lots of ways we make mistakes, but two of the blind spots that surprise me most are the continuous belief in the rationality of people and of the markets. This surprises me particularly because even the people who seem to believe that rationality is a good way to describe individuals, societies and markets, feel very differently when you ask them specific questions about the people and institutions they know very well. On one hand, they can state all kinds of high order beliefs about the rationality of people, corporations, and societies, but then they share very different sentiments about their significant other, their mother-in-law (and I am sure that their significant other and mother-in-law also have crazy stories to share about them), and the organizations they work at. Somehow when we look at a particular example of life up close, the illusion of sensible behavior fades almost instantly. And the more we look at the small details of our own life, the more our bad decisions seem to multiply.”

Of course Behavioural Economics is designed to ‘Nudge’ people away from bad or dangerous decisions.  But what could be more attuned to Ariely’s theory than football supporting.  Sensible behaviour is jettisoned the second we get into the (fan) zone.  We over indulge.  We endure extreme weather conditions.  We neglect family life for our own gratification.  We spend way more than rationally the product is worth (on tickets, memorabilia and stadium food).

But then this happens.

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 10.18.10.png

To mark this momentous occasion the Club’s ‘unofficial’ song was sung by 16,000 home fans as the away end, where moments before your natural born and sworn enemy were congregated, emptied,  as if by magic.

Before I share this moment of total brand immersion with you I need to explain the lyrics.  It’s a song by The Proclaimers.  Bespectacled (some would say geeky) twins with broad Scottish accents.

They are Hibs fans.  Everyone knows that.

This, then, is their Magnus Opus.

The opening stanza is a lament.  appropriated by the Hibernian fans as a total metaphor for the last 114 years in which we have not won the ‘Big’ Cup in Scotland.  Or the sixty or so that the ‘Big’ league had evaded our trophy cabinet.

My heart was broken, my heart was broken
Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow
My heart was broken, my heart was broken

Although verses 2 – 4 were clearly written about the arrival of a woman into a man’s life it has been anthromorphosised into our love of our team and its restorative qualities in only a relatively minor victory (nothing as big as winning the ‘Big’ Cup for example);

You saw it, You claimed it
You touched it, You saved it

My tears are drying, my tears are drying
Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you
My tears are drying, my tears are drying

Your beauty and kindness
Made tears clear my blindness

But the killer stanza is this one.  The one in which our declaration of faith, devotion, love recognises that Leith is the spiritual home of Hibernian FC and the central role of this great brand in our lives.

While I’m worth my room on this earth
I will be with you
While the Chief, puts sunshine on Leith
I’ll thank Him for His work
And your birth and my birth.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Then we do it all again.

My heart was broken, my heart was broken
Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow
My heart was broken, my heart was broken

You saw it, You claimed it
You touched it, You saved it

While I’m worth my room on this earth
I will be with you
While the Chief, puts sunshine on Leith
I’ll thank Him for His work
And your birth and my birth.

yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Now, here’s how it translates into a brand mantra.  The greatest brand emotional call and response that even Liverpool, and Celtic cannot match, try though they might.

Because they sing a hymn.

We sing a Gospel.

And it’s ours.  Only ours.

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Why Emotional branding and Behavioural economics are so tightly associated with the marketing of sport.

  1. I feel the same, writing as I do, nearly 400 miles from Easter Road. It is infectious, Hibs, as a brand and is stoked up to the max by that song. I perhaps only spent 1 season as a regular fan, and since then only attended 1 or 2 games, I am the epitome of an armchair supporter.
    Great piece, Mark.
    GGTTH!

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