Make people care by doing this repeatedly. Here’s the secret you tell…
# Us vs. Them. How to make people care.
There is great power in creating an Us vs. Them social dynamic. Us vs. the other guy. Us vs. the competition. Us vs. the cross town rival. Us vs. state.
This is how college football became such a hit phenomenon.
Roone Arledge was an early TV producer back in the 60’s. He was known as a good storyteller and journalist, someone who did quality work. The boss assigned college football broadcasts to Roone. At the time, this was not a posh assignment. Not desirable. There was little national fanfare — not even close to the frenzy of college football Saturdays in the fall that we all now know and love. Roone had to find a way to make people care.
Making people care is hard.
Making people care is hard. Most people already have their minds made up about what it is they like, trust, and prefer, and how they spend their time. If you come up with a new thing for them to like or pay attention to, you’re in for a struggle of mindshare and attention. It is hard!
How would Roone make them care?
By telling engaging, emotional stories to people.
# Emotional Storytelling — Making people care.
Roone and his team would begin the college football broadcasts by telling stories about the players, coaches, schools themselves, what they stood for, what they stood against, and who their cross-town rivals were. Roone brought visceral emotion and drive to stoke the college football flames each broadcast. Roone gave the fans reasons to pay attention to the college football games through his storytelling. And through his storytelling, he made people engaged emotionally, giving them skin in the game. Even for those who didn’t go to the schools playing football on that Saturday. He created an us vs. them social dynamic, a rivalry.
Pick a side, and get ready for battle!
We love sports in this country because we like a good, fair fight. Everybody loves a winner, which is why you see Kansas City Chiefs gear on people who would never have worn it the 2012 season when the Chiefs went 2–14. But once a team emerges victorious, fair-weather fans crawl out of the woodwork, fans the Chiefs never knew they had until they won it all.
NFL rivalries. College football rivalries. Hockey rivalries. Even golf rivalries. (OK, the golf analogy may be a stretch.) It is these emotional, bitter rivalries that set the story arc. These emotions are the catalyst, the inciting incident, to the pre-game, actual game, and post-game.
“You just lost the big one! How does that FEEL?!”
Ever wonder why the journalist on the sidelines always asks the players how they feel after a great victory or a terrible loss? Because they’re stoking the fires of emotion! 🔥
# Great storytelling fans the emotional flames.
It doesn’t take a marketing wizard to figure this out. It just takes the knowledge and experience of great storytelling to fan the emotional flames. A great day at the office for a sidelines reporter is when a player goes off the rails and rails on about someone, a teammate, a coach, a fan, the other team, or management live on camera. Doesn’t get juicier than that front page gossip!
And we as fans love it and gobble that stuff up. It is the journalist’s job to foment the emotional flames. Love them or hate them. There is no $ in the middle. Nothing draws others in like raw emotion on display.
Growing up in Nebraska, college football is an institution. You are all-in every Saturday in the fall. It’s all we got! Of course, it is religion. As it is in Oklahoma.
Nebraska’s early rival of decades ago was the Oklahoma Sooners. This was no small thing to play the Sooners. They were consistently awesome, had great playing talent and coaching, and showed up on game day. We took this seriously and usually matched-up well. No one ever knew who would come out on top at the end of the game. The broadcasters fed us emotionally-engaged, behind-the-scenes stories, and we all ate it up.
We could not get enough. And we still can’t!
The part that people tend to forget, the part that nobody remembers is what spawned it all in the first place? What was the inciting incident / incidents? What happened oh-so-long ago that brought us here to this place, at this time? What initially set off the Hatfields v. The McCoys? What was the impetus for Microsoft vs. Apple way back when? Why can’t Nebraska ever seem to beat top teams any more and compete in the top 10 like the ol’ Oklahoma rivalry days of the Big 8!? Why!?
And it doesn’t really matter because these emotional stories were set long ago.
Our emotions and our fuzzy memories are locked into our minds and cells and tissues like padlocks. The only place they’re going is into an argument about why our football team is still better than your football team — and it isn’t even football season for another 4 months!