Surf tribal behaviour: a sports marketing application

Surf tribal behaviour: a sports marketing application
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  Surf tribal behaviour: a sportsmarketing application Luiz Moutinho  Department of Management, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK  Pedro Dionı´sio  ISCTEBusinessSchool,InstitutoSuperiordeCieˆ nciasdoTrabalhoedaEmpresa, Lisbon, Portugal, and  Carmo Leal  ISG/Escola de Gesta˜ o, Lisbon, Portugal  Abstract Purpose  – The purpose of this paper is to investigate “tribal” consumption behaviour and itsrelationship to branding, in the particular context of the surfing community in Portugal. Design/methodology/approach  – Two focus group meetings with “surfers” and “fans”respectively, in April 2006, were enriched by computerised projective techniques andprogram-assisted design (PAD) technology, backed by high quality video prompts. Qualitative dataanalysis was enhanced by quantified data collected in the PAD phase. The design was expresslydirected at future quantification and model building. Findings  – Four research propositions, derived from an extensive literature review, were mostlyconfirmed: surfing does exhibit characteristics of a cult. There are three distinct types of adherent,their associative behaviour characterized by affiliation, social recognition, socialization andsymbolism. Surfers and fans exhibit strong brand awareness and less strong preferences forsurf-linked brands, in different ways. Researchlimitations/implications  – Interpretation is limited by the scope of the study: two focusgroups in one country. There is some compensation in the richness of the data. Practical implications  – Marketers involved with cult consumers and tribal brands need a body of knowledge on which to base their marketing intelligence gathering and strategic planning. Originality/value  – This paper provides exploratory research findings related to one classicexample of the tribal brand-consumption behaviour that accounts for significant consumer spendingaround the postmodern world. Keywords  Consumer behaviour, Marketing intelligence, Brands, Portugal, Aquatic sports Paper type  Research paper Context of the study Sport has always constituted an essential component of leisure-time activity incontemporary societies. The majority of Europeans play some form of sport, while TVbroadcasting and live events attract millions of supporters each year.Surfing is a sport and a recreational activity, with strong lifestyle associations. It isgenerally accepted that Polynesians from Tahiti and Hawaii were the first to enjoy thesensation of gliding across the face of the ocean. This most popular of so-called “radicalsports” is also known as “the king of sports” because legend proclaims that, inPolynesia, only the kings could catch the wave standing. The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at MIP25,7 668 Received August 2006RevisedMay2007,July2007,August 2007Accepted August 2007 Marketing Intelligence & PlanningVol. 25 No. 7, 2007pp. 668-690 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited0263-4503DOI 10.1108/02634500710834160  The total interaction with the sea and the sun, and the art of dominating nature,have helped to win thousands of fans, who form an effective “tribe” of performers andfollowers worldwide.In consumer behaviour research, a new tradition has been emerging around theconcept of “brand communities” and a “tribal” analysis of the ways in which membersof such communities relate to others and, in particular, to the brands associated withthe activity that is the focus of their communal behaviour. The notion of tribalconsumption has crystallised around the research and writings of Bernard Cova,Professor of Marketing at Euromed Marseilles and the Universita` Bocconi in Milan(Cova, 1997). It is clearly linked with the concept of postmodernism in marketing(Brown, 1995, 1999; Cova, 1997, 1999, 2002; Elliot, 1999; Firat, 1992; Firat and Schultz,1997).In the recent development of marketing theory, the postmodernist frame of referencehas significantly challenged such well-known conventions as the concept of brandimage, and has reinforced the notion of the brand as a cult (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2000;McAlexander  et al. , 2002; Maffesoli and Foulkes, 1998). In its application toorganizational marketing, it has signalled the necessity of understanding new socialorganizations with consumption behaviour patterns distinctly different from thetraditional norm. The new “consumer tribes” are often characterized by rituals, beliefsand symbolism that clearly configure a non-religious cult (Atkin, 2004; Brody, 1979).Against this background, a key aim of this research-based study is to identifywithin the surfing community the tribal behaviours that are expressed in terms of cognitive, attitudinal and buying responses towards brands associated in some waywith their communal activity. It further seeks to discover whether or not therelationships members establish with these brands vary with the nature and level of their involvement in the sport. Cults in sport Why do people join cults? Why do they become devotedto certain brands? The simplestanswer is that membership tends to make them feel at ease by being amonglike-minded others. Thus, one of the most important characteristics of cults and cultbrands is that they establish the differences that link their users (Atkin, 2004).Superficially, it would seem that there is little if any relationship between sport andcults, the latter being normally associated with religion. Prebish (1993) observes thatsport is a competitive, dynamic, and sometimes individualistic activity, while religionis a non-competitive process founded upon commonality of social organization.However, it is evident that both sport and religion deploy intricate rituals to placeevents in a traditional and orderly perspective. Novak (1995) boldly asserts that: Sport is, somehow, a religion  . . .  sports flow outward into action from a deep natural impulsethat is radically religious: an impulse of freedom, respect for ritual limit. The athlete may of course, be pagan, but sports are, as it were, natural religions. Sports in general have appropriated significant religious terminology as a means of expressing their sincerity, fervour, and seriousness. If they can thereby deliver anexperience of the ultimate kind to their adherents, expressed through a formal series of public and private rituals requiring a symbolic language and a space deemed sacred,then it is both proper and necessary to call sport itself a religion (Prebish, 1984). Surf tribalbehaviour 669  Brody (1979) places the analytic emphasis on symbols, but agrees that the collectivebehaviour of followers of organized sports is at least quasi-religious in nature.Percy and Taylor (1991) analysed the dynamics of tribalism and popular notions of masculinity, heroes and the like, in the context of football (soccer) in the UK. Theynoted that supporters of teams establish rituals involving such “meaningful artefacts”as the clothing they wear, the food they eat and the friends they choose, which become“sacred” through their involvement in the ritual and association with the sport. “Fandom” “Fans” a description that is of course, short for “fanatics” and thus again invokesreligion, are the very essence of demand for a game or sporting contest (Borland andMacdonald, 2003). The term “fandom” has been coined to describe the social structurethat allows individuals to be a part of the sport without participating in the game(Branscombe  et al. , 1991; King, 2000; Richardson, 2004). The phenomenon offers suchsocial benefits as feelings of camaraderie, community and solidarity, as well asenhancedsocial prestige andself-esteem (Zillman etal. ,1989). Kimble and Cooper(1992)argue that fans attain a feeling of vicarious achievement simply by being fans. Hirt et al.  (1992) found that their mood and self-esteem were strongly affected by theoutcome of an event they were supporting, even when an unrelated task was performedimmediately afterwards.In a meta-study of the literature related to followers and fans, Funk and James (2001)developed a psychological continuum model of the psychological associations thatindividuals form with sports teams, a sport in general, or both.Followers of a sport need not necessarily be fans. Jones (1997) suggests thatspectators generally observe a sport and then forget about it, while fans are moreintense and devote part of every day to the sport. Fandom has also been defined as anaffiliation in which a great deal of emotional significance and value are derived fromgroup membership (Hirt  et al. , 1992). The difference between a fan and a follower seemsto depend on the degree of passion. Anderson (1979) describes a fan as an “ardentdevotee” frequently possessed by an “excessive enthusiasm” for a particular sport.Many researchers have suggested different typologies of fans, recognizing aparticular behaviour in each subgroup. Hunt  et al.  (1999) suggest five different typesranging from “fanatical” to “temporary” the latter limiting their fandom to a certainmoment or event. Their typology also defines “local” and “dysfunctional” varieties.Tapp and Clowes (2002) distinguish among fanatics, regular supporters and casualsupporters; Stewart and Smith (1997) discuss such descriptions as  aficionado ,theatregoer, passionate partisan, camp follower and “reclusive partner”. Whatever thenames given, one of the most frequently used criteria for understanding these distinctfandom levels is the concept of commitment.Pimentel and Reynolds (2004) describe “devoted fans” who are affectivelycommitted to the sport, engage proactively in sustained behaviour, and can beexpected to continue following the sport under any circumstances.Wann and Pierce (2003) propose that, because the reactions of sport fans are so oftena function of their level of commitment and identification with the sport, the accuratemeasurement of identification/commitment (I/C) is of utmost importance to sportspsychologists and sports marketers. MIP25,7 670  Affiliation Affiliation with a group is motivated by a desire for positive distinctiveness from othersocial groups (Madrigal, 2002). One important aspect of the group identification andaffiliation process is the performance of such rituals as collecting (souvenirs), dressing(club uniforms) and pilgrimages (travelling to away games), and in general treating theteam or sport as a part of one’s own identity.Individuals derive strength and a sense of identity from their connections to socialgroups. Tajfel (1982) argues that they are unable to form self-images in the absence of group affiliations. Stronger identification leads one to attribute desirable groupcharacteristics to oneself, and assume a greater similarity with other group members(Fisher and Wakefield, 1998). Fans who identify strongly with a team or sport arelikely to ascribe positive attributes to “their” in-group and negative attributes to theimplicit out-group (Pimentel and Reynolds, 2004). The antecedents of identification andaffiliation in a sports context were found by Donavan  et al.  (2005) to be the basicpersonality traits of extraversion, agreeability, need for arousal, and materialism.The mechanism of “role adoption” is a constituent of identity reinforcement andsocial recognition, and is particularly relevant in the context of any activity that isintensely associated with aspirational life styles. In the particular case of surfing, notnormally a team sport with “fans” in the usual sense of the word, even non-practisingfollowers of the associated beach lifestyle like to pretend to be real surfers by wearingthe sort of clothing they wear, and thereby take on a definite role in the whole system.Because sport takes place unequivocally within the context of a society’ssignificant symbols, it has a direct impact on participant’ self-perception, self-esteem,and self-worth. In other words, it has a vital social dimension, ideally combiningself-recognition with social recognition. Individuals strive to maintain or enhance apositive social identity by affiliating themselves with attractive social groups (Fisherand Wakefield, 1998). After being categorized as a group member, individuals achievepositive self-esteem by positively differentiating their own group from others, withrespect to some valued dimension (Tajfel and Turner, 1986). They are willinglysocialized.Socialization is in essence a learning process, a deliberate act of identityconstruction. Along with genes, the socialization process shapes human personality inparticular ways by encouraging specific beliefs and attitudes as well as selectivelyproviding experiences. The propensity of individuals to adapt their behaviour in orderto render them more socially acceptable is often described as “self-monitoring”.Neophyte members of an in-group begin to socialize themselves by adopting themannerisms, attitudes, styles of dress, speech, and behaviour perceived to becharacteristic of established members. Such perceptions are frequently stereotypical(Donnelly and Young, 1988). In adopting the stereotypes, a sports fan acquires a kindof “cultural capital” (Richardson, 2004) from the group: the knowledge of how toconsume the sport as a product, and do so in the socially endorsed way. This processhas its roots in childhood socialization, primarily in the context of friends and family. Jacobson (2003) notes that boys are traditionally socialized into sports at an early agethrough both parental influence, publicity, sports promotion and brand marketing.Cult symbolism is intrinsic in fan groups. Objects become symbolic whenindividuals focus on meanings beyond their tangible, physical characteristics. Thus,products and brands become social tools, serving as a means of communication Surf tribalbehaviour 671  between individuals and their “significant references” (Banister and Hogg, 2004).Consumption emerges as the linking values surrounding a common passion. In thecontext of surfing, the real links are not only places and beaches they like to go to, theboards, the “secret” gestures and so forth, but also the brands surfers buy.More than just a sport, surfing is a way of life that has a great deal of influence on thefashion world, music and brands. Consumer tribes It is in the context of a postmodern society with no social and professional groups,categories or classes that a network of societal micro-groups emerges, in whichindividuals share strong emotional links, a common sub-culture and a vision of life.One subset is the “consumer tribe” (Cova, 1997). The description is meant to evoke there-emergence of quasi-archaic values: identification with a location, religiousness andgroup narcissism. From a postmodernist perspective, neo-tribes no longer fit into thepredefined categories that might their behaviour predictable (Cova, 1997).Tribe members tend to exhibit the orientations and characteristics of postmodernconsumption, which a study by Firat and Schultz (1997) has shown to exhibitsubstantive differences compared with merely modern consumption, such as theconsumers’ tendency to assume different identities, their readiness to accept valuesystems and principles quite distinct from their own, and a lesser regard for materialvalues and the primacy of subject over object.Modern tribes are a focus for postmodern consumer research and an alternative wayof targeting marketing action. Their social behaviour is characterised by whatspecialist researchers have called “sacralisation” a process which “serves as atransition to move fans to a stronger form of commitment [via] quintessence,inheritance, external sanction, collecting, gift giving, pilgrimage and ritual” (Pimenteland Reynolds, 2004). Tribal consumers are believed to value goods and services whichpermit and support social interaction of the communal type (Cova and Cova, 2002).A tribe member becomes “an illusion consumer  . . .  buys images not products” (Elliot,1999). This trend in consumption may manifest itself in rejection of a virtualsatisfaction through purchasing or may seek direct satisfaction through emotionshared with others, not by consuming with them but simply by being with them Cova(1997).Postmodern consumer behaviour researchers argue that image is a selling entitywhich the product tries to represent. The image does not represent the product, butvice-versa (Cova, 1999); objectivity gives way to symbolization (Venkatesh  et al. , 1993).Symbols and signs are constantly reconfigured by “bricolage” fit each specificsituation. Thus, in a sense, consumption becomes production (Christensen  et al. , 2005)and brand loyalty exists only as long as brands project attractive images forconsumers’ momentary experiences (Thompson, 1997).The expressive, rather than rational, nature of these neo-tribes was highlighted in astudy by Maffesoli (1996), who argues that identities are formed by the practicesarising from the elective and affective ties of tribe members. McGee-Cooper (2005)suggests that the impulse to join others is universal and natural because we want tobelong. Individuals can belong to more than one neo-tribe, each conveying visible andinvisible signs with which members identify and offering locations and moments intime at which members can come together for the cult rituals that are part of that MIP25,7 672
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