When People Are Forced To Choose, Everyone Has an Opinion

When the mid-90s “Battle of Britpop” was underway everyone had to pick a side. What does that mean for your business?

It doesn’t matter whether you know anything else about hip-hop, you will know the names of Tupac Shakur and Christopher “the Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace. And you probably have an opinion on them. Still to this day they are referred to as the greatest, and new hip-hop stars know that the best way to get people to care is to strike up a heated rivalry.

The same happens in the football world, you’re either #TeamMessi or #TeamRonaldo. It’s hard to appreciate both, without being seen to be sitting on the fence.

If Blur and Oasis weren’t pitched as being against each other, you might not have had a strong opinion on either. But our brains love a bit of drama and a lot of dichotomy.

More often than not, when picking sides we don’t even bother to do the research. We look to our peers and we follow their thinking. If we share political opinions, affiliations and other characteristics with peers then we will likely agree with them on new and emerging issues.

That’s not to say you will also always agree, but that it is a really neat cognitive shortcut. We look to what people like us think, and we jump on the bandwagon.

We’ve just seen this on a global level, through the COVID-19 pandemic. How you voted during Brexit, or whether you were Trump or Clinton, was a massive indicator as to what your views were of the restrictions and measures to adapt to the situation.

In Crystallising Public Opinion, Edward Bernays talked about how it is important to embrace the dualism to get into the public awareness.

He argues that people only take an interest if you’re againstsomething.

There are ways you can take advantage of this — using language which poses you as against a common enemy that your audience shares. For example being against climate change, fighting cancer etc..

If you’re seeking to resolve a major social challenge then talking about it can help to highlight to people that you are part of the fight against it. For anyone who shares that desire to rid the world of that perceived evil, you become an ally.

By fabricating the “Battle of Britpop” both sides benefited. They got more press coverage, they had longer term coverage as the story twisted and turned and people craved updates. Who knows how well either would have been without having had the benefit of playing off the other.

Companies like Pepsi and Coke have obvious rivalries that have led to greater attention and ad campaigns. The idea that we vote for our favourites with every pound we choose to spend.

Whenever a big match or fight comes up the build up is all based on the curiosity of “who will win” and “who is the best”. Even if you don’t care, the build up and storytelling is designed to make you curious about the consequences.

Picking an enemy, and connecting with people who agree can be a useful way to get people to recognise your role. Wholly agreeable opinions and thoughts don’t inspire action or interest.

You have to be remarkable (in the words of Seth Godin) or be a kindred ally in the good fight.

There’s a bigger piece here in picking enemies well and being convincing in your ability to overcome the enemy, but we will talk about that more in a future post.

Do you have a defined enemy? Do you talk about that internally with your team or publicly with customers and stakeholders?

As always, please do get in touch with your views on this topic, and share on socials — it’s great to see the new subscribers count growing.

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