Marketing Tactics – “Us vs. Them”, and You Fall For It!



Apple is the envy of all Marketeers because they have been able to accomplish something many companies have not.  They have turned customers into hoards of fanatical followers.  With fewer resources than Apple, is it even possible to build that kind of  brand loyalty?  Simply put, the answer is yes. While having an amazing leader, such as Steve Jobs running the show, it isn’t necessary. The big secret behind Apple’s huge success lies with an experiment conducted over forty years ago.

The Seminal Experiment
Psychologist Henri Tajfel was curious as to why seemingly normal people could commit genocide, so he decided to see how easy or it was to get subjects to identify with one group and discriminate against others. He found that with only the slightest distinctions, he could help people create loyalties to one group and discriminate against everyone else.

Tajfel tested subjects by having them do things like choose between one of two painters or guessing a number of dots shown on a screen, then assigned everyone to a group based on their answer.   After the groups were established, they were told to distribute rewards.  They found people were loyal to their own group and stingy with others.  Even though the groups were completely meaningless, people still became emotionally invested and cheered for their own group’s rewards and made fun of the others. Subsequently, many variations of this experiment have been performed and all have shown that people can develop group loyalty very quickly.

Tajfel’s experiment led to the theory of social identity: People have an inherent tendency to categorize themselves into groups. They then base their identity (in part) on their group affiliations, and build boundaries to keep other groups separate.

Us vs. Them

Since our brains are hardwired to want to be in one or more groups, this can be exploited with neuromarketing campaigns.  Brands that can position their customers into a group will find their efforts automatically enhanced by the inherent need to belong.  On top of it all, customers will most likely develop a dislike for other brand groups as well.
Look back again at Apple and how they’ve used the “Us. vs. Them” approach for decades. Their 1984 commercial drew a distinction between an attractive young woman and brainwashed drones.  A year later, Apple’s creepy “Lemmings” commercial helped further segregate people into two camps: PC or Mac.  PC users were portrayed as blindfolded business people functioning like suicidal rodents following each other off a cliff.  Would you want to belong to their group?  They’ve done the same in recent years with the popular Mac Guy vs. PC Guy commercials, and ask us to categorize ourselves yet again.  Are you one of the cool kids, or a dork?

Compare People, Not Products

These ads don’t supply much actual product information, they just make fun of PC users and make Apple users look awesome.  Apple is not the only company to try this.  What about Pepsi?  They made the “Pepsi Generation” campaign to try to form Pepsi drinkers into a group that would surpass the popularity of Coke.  Luckily for some car and truck companies, their owner bases picked up a hater theme all their own.  (Check out pictures.)  So while the actual companies didn’t try to exploit this in ads, the group loyalty effect was the same.


Do your customers feel like they are part of a group?If not, maybe you’ll want to give it a try.

By | 2016-10-27T18:34:38+00:00 December 29th, 2012|Random Posts|Comments Off on Marketing Tactics – “Us vs. Them”, and You Fall For It!