Super Bowl

Amid Sunday's Chips and Beer, What a Marketer Could Learn

Super Bowl Mania Reveals the Mass Appeal of Fitting Into Social Norms

By Published on .

We'll do it again. Sunday night we'll all stop everything we're doing to watch the most-hyped sporting event known to mankind. We'll drink beer and down pizza, hot wings, chili and every kind of chip and bean dip concoction imaginable, while we watch a football game between teams that most of us aren't even fans of.

Seems kind of silly. Why do we do it, year after year?

Is it that we'll look for any excuse to drink beer? Or that we can't wait to see what Danica Patrick will tease us with this year? Do we really love the NFL that much?

The answer might be yes to all of these, but I'll contend that the real reason is more fundamental and telling about our culture.

As media -- and society -- fragment into millions of little niches it's easy to get caught up in our individual work places, schools and clubs. Websites exist to connect even the tiniest of interest groups. At the same time, we have a political climate that isolates people and ideas, forces people to choose sides and vigorously oppose those who disagree -- at virtually any cost to society.

Yet, it's clear that Americans also yearn for shared experiences, where we can let go of our niches, overlook differences, forget animosity and pull together. We derive some level of comfort knowing that we're a part of a larger society; and we don't want to be left out.

If outside your office you saw people looking up in the sky, you'd figure that there was something worth looking at -- and you'd probably stop and look, too. More than most of us care to admit or even realize, we're motivated to act by copying what we see others are doing. We look to larger groups to see how we should behave.

From how we organize ourselves on an elevator to how we use Twitter and Facebook, much of our culture is based upon figuring out how others behave and then mimicking that behavior. What larger groups believe to be the proper ways to behave soon become our "social norms." Sometimes we see a "bandwagon effect" in the population that leads us to take part in imitative behavior that -- if we stop and ponder it -- might make us wonder, "Why am I doing that?"

The Super Bowl might lead you to that question. But, a single event of this magnitude, generating a shared experience for a huge portion of this nation and many others around the world, is rare and irresistible. If we believe so many others are watching the game, we want to watch, too.

This year, as you're enjoying the chips and beer -- and possibly the game itself -- you might take notice of how much you enjoy blending in with the crowd. And ask yourself this question: How could I use the power of social norms to help better position my product or brand?

First, you have to understand how your target perceives the social norms of your category. Many marketers make the mistake of overshooting these norms, by assuming that their potential customers want to stand out from the crowd, be different or be the best, when they really just want to fit in. Brand affinity is all about being part of the in-group, a member of the crowd.

Understanding this critical nuance is paramount to knowing how you can help your customers fit your product or brand within their own perceived social norms.

Millions of us gather around flat screens, eating chili and critiquing ads because we assume it's what we should be doing. No brand ever created a better social norm for itself than the Super Bowl.

Tom Denari is president, Young & Laramore, Indianapolis, Ind.
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