Sports fans will go to nearly any lengths to make sure their teams win, from wearing their lucky jersey to a sitting in a particular place at a certain time in the game. They’ll even buy certain products.
According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, sports fans will switch products if they think it will help the team. “It can be stressful when you want your team to win, but can't do anything about it," says Gita Johar, associate vice dean at the Meyer Feldberg Professor of Business at Columbia Business School. "Superstition is one way that people can feel that they gain control over an uncertain situation."
For the study, Johar and Eric J. Hamerman of Tulane University devised an experiment in which participants were given a Snickers bar just prior to watching their college compete in a simulated quiz bowl game. In the experiment, the team starts off poorly, but begins to improve. As the team improved, the researchers distributed more Snickers during refreshment breaks. Finally, at the end of the experiment, with the game still going on, the research offered a choice between a Kit Kat or another Snickers. About half the time, the people chose the Snickers out of associations built up between their use of a product and the team’s performance.
What’s more, the experiment subjects knew there was no rational support for their beliefs that eating Snickers affected the outcome of the game, yet they chose the product anyway, showing how powerful the associations can be, Johar says.
“They know it’s not rational, but when you asked them, they thought it had an effect on the results,” Johar tells Marketing Daily.
As Major League Baseball, perhaps one of the most superstitious sports there is, moves into the playoff season, savvy brands might want to look to capitalize on the power of superstitious behavior, Johar says. Marketers could look to associate a particular team’s success with the use of their product by fans (like suggesting a home runs are based on the consumption of a certain brand of beer), she says. The key, however, is to make sure the connection is organic and somewhat unpredictable.
“The result has to be uncertain for the correlation to build up. Though you can’t know exactly the correlation, you can build what you know around it,” Johar says. “[You need to say,] ‘People who did this made the team win. If you want to make your team win, you need to do it too.’”