Rivalry
Sometimes the best thing for a brand is an enemy: a rival brand that can be the focus of advertising. The other day, Mark Gallagher and Laura Savard at the BlackCoffee blog put the advantage of focusing on a rival succinctly:

It is often said that a brand is a narrative. This is because stories are fundamental to how we process information. The human brain organizes much of our experience, knowledge and thinking as stories and, as we all know, rivalry makes for a great story. Without an antagonist, things get boring quickly. Rivalry leverages exclusionary positioning, providing an antagonist that adds to an existing identity.

In my post, Revealed: How Steve Jobs Turns Customers into Fanatics, I described how Apple has brilliantly leveraged rivalry marketing to build their brand and business.

It turns out that there’s a way to make your own claims more believable and those of your rival less so. Research at Michigan State University studied the “Barack Obama is a Muslim” and “John McCain is senile” beliefs, which informed people of most political persuasions would agree are false.

The research by Spee Kosloff and colleagues suggests people are most likely to accept such falsehoods, both consciously and unconsciously, when subtle clues remind them of ways in which Obama is different from them, whether because of race, social class or other ideological differences. [From ScienceDaily – Why Some Americans Believe Obama Is a Muslim.]

Subtle Priming

Remarkably, it took very little effort to make the false statements more believable. The test subjects were mostly white, non-Muslim, and young – characteristics which set them apart from the contenders. Subjects were asked to read blog posts with the allegations about Obama and McCain with and without subtle priming:

  • McCain supporters who were asked to indicate their race on a demographic card found it 77% likely that Obama was Muslim vs. 56% without the race priming.
  • Undecided subjects thought it 43% likely that McCain was senile, a number that jumped to 73% when they were asked to list their own age on a card.
  • Undecided subjects gave the “Obama is a socialist” a mere 25% probability of being true, a number that jumped to 62% when they were asked to record their race.

Let me make it clear I’m not advocating any brand to make false statements about their competitors or their own products. The neuromarketing takeaway from this research is, I believe, equally relevant to TRUE statements. If you can prime your target audience with cues that separate them from other customer groups that favor your competition, they will be more likely to believe your message.

While the MSU experiment used race and age, I can see many areas of differentiation. Geography, for example, whether the difference is local, regional, or global, can readily set groups apart. Even a state of mind can work – look at Apple’s efforts over the years to portray their customers as young, cool, and creative and the competition as old, brainwashed, and frumpy. In the “I’m a Mac” ads Apple masterfully set up viewers by reminding them of which camp they were in before delivering the content payload: PCs are buggy, people hate Vista, PCs get more viruses, etc. Surely these messages were far more effective than had Apple simply run factual ads about customer satisfaction ratings or virus outbreak statistics.

The message is simple: if you can segment your target customers in a way that separates them from other groups, remind them of that difference, even in a very subtle way. Doing so will amplify the credibility of your message.

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