Just last night, I was having dinner with two of my best friends. Both are big sports fans— Pittsburgh Steeler fans the both of them. While sitting at the bar eating our steaks, the wall in front of us was covered with HD televisions showing NCAA basketball games and one professional soccer (football) game.
A week or so back, I watched a PBS Frontline program called League of Denial — a documentary about the hazards of playing football, the linkage between playing the game and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).
Because we were talking sports and the Pittsburgh Steeler connection, I brought up the documentary. After all, it featured former Steeler center and all-pro Mike Webster. Webster died at the age of 50 and his body was autopsied. The results of that autopsy showed that Webster, who visibly suffered from amnesia, dementia, depression, and acute bone and muscle pain, had CTE. What made Webster’s story such a shock was that he was an offensive lineman and was never diagnosed with having had a concussion while playing the game. Yet his brain showed severe CTE.
The story of the NFL and CTE is not the purpose of what I am writing here. I am writing about the reaction I received in suggesting that my one of my friends watch the documentary. He had little interest in it.
Why was an avid football fan and a Pittsburgh Steeler fan so disinterested? Well it has to do with how I framed the subject. I said, “Doc (he is a Doctor), do you remember Mike Webster from the Steelers?”
“Sure I do. Boy, that goes all the way back to the 70’s,” he answered.
“Well,” I said, “there is a documentary you should watch on Frontline about him and many other NFL players. I think that the NFL will not be around in 10 years. CTE does not come just from concussions but from a casual side effect of simply playing the game.”
I watched his face glaze over and I knew for a fact that he would never look at this documentary. Why? Because I framed it in a way that did not fit into his hopes and beliefs about what he enjoyed. NFL Football. I had said that the NFL was doomed — a completely unfounded claim like those that we all make all the time.
He is, by the way, a very inquisitive and a sharp guy. It was not his fault that he would rather ignore it. I framed the scenario in a way that just did not jive with his expectations and enjoyment. He did not want to know about it. He had no interest. When issues or opinions are expressed to us that do not line up with our own beliefs, we all (including me) ignore them.
This phenomenon is important to consider. Especially when you are trying to increase your brand’s preference. It is something I am careful to step around in brand strategy but step on all the time in casual conversation with those whose company I enjoy.
One of the tools we use here in those brand strategies is to tag along with an existing belief system and to link the brand to that self-defining message. Telling someone that what they are doing needs to change is often simply an attack on their personage— behavior and beliefs. After all, it is just human nature to think we are usually, if not always, right. Mea culpa.