TikTok’s Joanne Chehab on fandom psychology during sports events
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TikTok’s Joanne Chehab on fandom psychology during sports events

TikTok’s Joanne Chehab on fandom psychology during sports events

The digital platform’s Head of Business Partnerships for Managed Services, MENA, explains how human behaviour around mega sports events should inform brand campaigns

Joanne Chehab TikTok

What can brands do to tap into the heightened emotions displayed by fans during mega sporting events?
While for brands, it seems natural to capitalise on the hype of mega sporting events, the challenge lies in doing it authentically and effectively, to drive their core business objectives. In global events where emotions are running rampant, it becomes increasingly important for brands to craft campaigns that instigate an outsized emotional response, placing the brand right there in the stadium with the players, the fans and the teams.

But in order to establish this emotional rapport, brands need to understand fandom at a deeper level. What makes people tick during these events? Why are they even watching it, when it seems that most of them aren’t interested in the sport in the first place? What are the behavioural and evolutionary bases for them to act so coherently and in tandem?

What is the concept of  ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’, and how should it play into a brand’s marketing strategy?
Group dynamics have always been an evolutionary necessity. They govern our survivorship and self-preservation; simply put, being part of an ‘in-group’ increases our chances of survival and passing on our genetic code, but also allows us as a group to better compete for resources against an ‘out-group’.

Today, we see group dynamics everywhere from our online life to our tangible offline relationships. And our membership in different social groups constitutes a major building block of our complex identities. We are citizens of a country, members of a family, fans of a team, employees of a company, and the list goes on.

At first glance, it seems that during sports events, in-groups may be formed by fans of opposing teams. But in reality, fans of different teams come together to watch, discuss, and review games and they feed off each other through cheering and bantering. The divide lies elsewhere: it’s between the in-group who is engaging with the event and has something to say, versus the out-group who is more passively watching during this period.

For brands, this means they can’t ignore the event or worse, try to integrate it into their communication at a shallow level – for which they will quickly find themselves falling out of favour based on these unseen and un-acknowledged group dynamics that William Schutz calls “the interpersonal underworld” in his 1966 book.

Brands need to be there, but most importantly they need to establish themself as “insiders.” This means having a meaningful role to play, while truly listening to the social conversation and contributing to it. Micro-conversations that emerge throughout the event are key: the emotional, the funny, the ecstatic, the sad, and the history-defining moments. But also the trends, the challenges, the screams, and the cheers.

These moments that only true insiders engage in are short-lived and evasive but massive in scale and impact. Agility and speed of developing content become crucial but more important still is the ability of brands to maintain their purpose and brand personality throughout these conversations.

How can brands break through the noise and be noticed during mega sporting events?
Since our hunter-gatherer days, our brains evolved to prioritise attention to bigger animals and larger trees as they present bigger threats or greater opportunities.

The very nature of mega-events primes people to look for superlatives. The entire discourse becomes about the best team, the quickest goalkeeper, the fastest player, the largest stadium, the loudest fanbase, and so on.

As it turns out, in a context where superlatives reign supreme, brands need to make much more noise to be noticed. They need to be activated proportionately to the size of the event, or risk being shadowed by the colossal amount of noise generated by other brands and by the event itself.

How can brands augment the fan experience during mega sporting events?
At a time when seemingly everyone is watching and talking about the same mega sporting events, many don’t have much to say about it and find themselves under the threat of being eclipsed in social conversation.

Winning brands are the ones that activate a chameleon mechanism and carve out their own contextual role during the event. This is best done by finding the intersection between the brand’s purpose, and the event’s context, allowing marketers to articulate a unique voice that gives impetus to the brand’s presence beyond highlighting the event itself.

Establishing brand-event adjacency allows brands to position themselves as complements to the event, and augmenters of the fans’ experience, instead of being perceived as dependents, or worse yet, opportunists. As the brand reinforces this deep relevance, not only does it become a natural player in the context of the sporting event, but it turns into a bridge between its audience and the event.

Do you have any figures on the consumption of sports content in the region?
When taking sports subcategories into consideration, hashtags such as #football #basketball #cricket #volleyball have amassed over 6.4 billion views, and continue to thrive.  If we’re looking specifically at football, as of 2021, there were over 700 million views on the #TikTokFootball hashtag in the region, and 129 billion views on the #football hashtag globally. This has, of course, continued to grow over the course of the past year.

It’s important that brands understand how to effectively engage with these communities through an open dialogue versus a one-way conversation. Last year, TikTok became the first digital platform to sponsor a major international tournament by backing the UEFA Euro 2020. A study by Ipsos found that brand campaigns on TikTok surrounding Euro 2020 resonated greatly in the MENAT region and delivered brilliant results, this was because brands were engaging in conversation with the community, they were speaking with them, rather than just to them.

The study found that 81 per cent of MENAT football fans watched content created by brands on TikTok, while 76 per cent of them put on their creative hats and took part in specially curated hashtag challenges to celebrate all things football. Additionally, 79 per cent of the TikTok community resonated with other users’ football content and engaged with it by sharing or reposting that content.

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