May 10th, 2010

Sports and the Brain, Part II: Win or Lose

By Kyle Morich

Reinforcement is the result of context-based framing.  Listerine tastes awful, but my experience using Listerine is that the burning taste in my mouth means that it’s working. Sports franchises, broadcasters, and news sources succeed because the reinforcement of a sporting event transcends simple winning and losing.  If a team had to win every game to keep its customers, the sports entertainment industry would cease to exist. The Chicago Cubs have not won a championship in over 100 years, yet diehard fans still pack Wrigley Field for every game.  A product or service that fails year over year will not last that long.

Every marketer is trying to harness the power of feedback that they see in sports.  They want “Fans” that will feel the same connection in their interactions with products and services that they feel with teams and players.  They endorse athletes, teams, and arenas, hoping to transfer that positive feedback we feel watching sports to their brands.  But asking customers to “root, root, root” for their toilet paper or salad dressing like they do for the home team is not possible, and not something a marketer wants.  The framing is completely different. Our marketing messages ask customers to pit our products and services against competitors, to consciously evaluate their satisfaction levels, and calculate the value of our product with each and every purchase.  We essentially tell customers that wins and losses matter.  That’s fine if our product is the Los Angeles Lakers (2010 record: 57 wins, 25 losses), but what if we’re the Los Angeles Clippers (2010 record: 29 wins, 53 losses)?

For a product to become a habit, it must be reinforced.  As marketers, we have the unique ability to use our messaging to frame our customers’ perceptions of what is reinforcing.  Coors Light will never win a taste test against Samuel Adams, but Coors Light marketing is not focused on taste.  It’s obsessively focused on temperature.  Every can, box, and bottle is designed to tell me when the beer is cold and, thus, refreshing.  When I drink it, and it’s cold, I’m refreshed, and that behavior is reinforced.   They’ve taken a subjective evaluation and turned it into an objective one.

Coors Light and Sam Adams Beer Ads: Temperature versus Taste

Sporting events aren’t supposed to be about the wins and losses.  They’re about memories, bonding, and conversation.  Every marketer needs to understand how their messaging is framing the customer’s experience, and how that framing impacts reinforcement.  If your messaging is asking customers to look at your “record,” you may not like the results.

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