Loyalty beyond reason

Regarding Hawthorn, Nike, and the power in our passions.

Another AFL football season is reaching a climax and Melbourne – indeed the whole country – is being consumed by it. Footy fever is real, a phenomenon caused by the fervour of the fans as that final day in September looms closer.

When it comes to barracking for a football team, people display a unique trait we in advertising call loyalty beyond reason.

Put simply, loyalty beyond reason describes an individual’s dogmatic support for a brand regardless of any evidence or truth: it simply is, and it’s absolute.

It’s not my fault

In many cases it’s not a choice. We’ve been indoctrinated from an early age by parents, friends or family.

When I was about five, a kid in the schoolyard asked me which team I barracked for. I told him I didn’t know – in fact I didn’t even know what he was talking about. He said, ‘You barrack for Hawthorn.’ From that moment on, I did.

My son is also a one-eyed Hawks supporter. I made sure of it.

Similar indoctrinations can involve religious beliefs and political allegiances. Which is why it’s best to avoid arguments involving those topics – you can’t win against a loyalty that has no basis in logic or reason.

Go Hawks

A simpler time

Naturally it’s the aspiration of every brand to evoke such loyalty in its customers. It leads to guaranteed sales – and more, because loyalists are brand advocates who will spruik their preference to anyone who’ll listen.

It’s hard to achieve these days, but it was common when product choices were limited and the differences between brands were minimal. As consumers we would simply pick a side. Once picked, you’d stick by your brand.

For example, there was little or no discernable difference between beer brands VB and Fosters, but VB loyalists would rarely – if ever – buy Fosters.

Similarly, Holden loyalists would never buy Ford (and vice-versa). There’s a bumper sticker that demonstrates this perfectly: I’D RATHER PUSH MY HOLDEN THAN DRIVE A FORD.

Advertising could influence that decision. If a consumer liked the Ford ad more than the ad for Holden, that was often all it took.

Back a winner

Today’s consumers are not as easily convinced. We have greater choice than ever before; we’re better informed; differences between brands (and products) are noted and discussed; and the general embrace of ‘discovery’ makes sticking to one brand unappealing.

But it can – and does – still happen. Kids (or their parents) buy pair after pair of exorbitantly priced Nike basketball shoes because their NBA heroes wear them, not because of any product benefit. And of course, Ford loyalists will still never buy Holden (and vice-versa).

Sport and product endorsement is a factor in those two examples. Why? Because sport is highly emotive, and passion leads to loyalty.

The success of the Shell V-Power Racing Team in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship has undoubtedly reinforced loyalty among Ford purists, who probably fill up with Shell V-Power, too.

The benefits of passion

The mistake most advertisers make these days is to rely too heavily on reasoned arguments. They’re the things listed in the creative brief under the heading: PRODUCT BENEFITS.

Yes, benefits have a role to play. But unless they’re presented in an emotive way, you won’t instil loyalty. Loyalty beyond reason is not based on rational thought: it’s based on passion. A brand’s benefits don’t create loyalty: they justify loyalty.

To instil passion your brand needs to stand for something. It needs to separate from the crowd. That takes bravery.

Kaepernick - Nike Ad

Divide and conquer

The above ad from Nike is an example of bravery. It features Colin Kaepernick, a player who was blacklisted by the NFL for kneeling during the American national anthem… you can imagine how that went down in Trump-era middle America.

Nike has copped a lot of criticism. Its share price has plummeted. But, ultimately, Nike will win more fans than it loses. And importantly, it is now seen as a human rights leader – something that really matters to its core demographic.

Nike has come a long way since the Asian sweatshops scandal. But bravery doesn’t always need to be born from adversity. Nike would be in a much stronger position had it run this ad without the sweatshop context.

Being different divides people, and some who currently buy or would consider buying your product will be lost. That’s unavoidable, because passion is a two-way street.

But you will also inspire new customers. And among them you will instil that most sought after state: loyalty beyond reason.


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Regarding Hawthorn, Nike, and the power in our passions.

Peter Milne Head of Copy and Content at Sense
Peter Milne
Head of Copy and Content