RIM fanboys and football fans: not so different

What inspires such fierce brand loyalty? Peter Nowak asks a timely question


BlackBerry may have outdone Apple in regards to its frothing fan base.

BlackBerry may have outdone Apple in regards to its frothing fan base.

Two seemingly disparate events are happening this week: Wednesday’s long-awaited launch of BlackBerry 10 and Sunday’s Super Bowl. But believe it or not, they’re not that different. Both inspire fanatical devotion from legions of fans, some of which border on madness.

Anyone who has written anything on Research In Motion during the past little while is surely familiar with the attacks that inevitably follow. It doesn’t matter how scathing or glowing said piece was, the BlackBerry fanboys have been out with a vengeance once reserved only for Apple’s own iCult.

Even positive articles aren’t spared their wrath. My largely favourable review recently of the pre-release BlackBerry 10, for example, provoked one commenter on Twitter to affirm that I was “pulling things out of my ass.” Really, there’s no pleasing these people.

To be fair, it’s not just RIM that inspires such loyalty/lunacy. I’ve seen it particularly bad from the Apple and Nintendo faithful, but everyone’s got them – Microsoft, Google even Palm back in the day.

It got me wondering: what inspires such fierce brand loyalty? Surely there’s some sort of scientific reason behind it?

It turns out there is, according to psychologists at the University of Illinois. In a 2011 study, researchers found that fanboys often confuse their own self image with that of brands. As Ars Technica put it, “You may think you’re defending your favorite platform because it’s just that good. But… you may instead be defending yourself because you view criticisms of your favorite brand as a threat to your self image.”

In other words, if you pick a brand and it does poorly, you might get prickly about it because you’re effectively defending your choice.

The researchers performed two experiments, one on a group of 30 women and another on a group of 170 undergrads, and divided them into a set with high self-brand connections and those with low SBC. Those with high SBC tended to suffer hits to their self esteem when their brands didn’t do well or were criticized. Those with low SBC… well, they were perfectly fine. As the study puts it:

Because the brand is seen as a part of the self by virtue of being intimately tied to the self, failure on the part of the brand is experienced as a personal failure. Therefore, in an effort to maintain a positive self-view, high SBC individuals react defensively to brand failure by evaluating the brand favorably despite its poor performance.

This isn’t so different from sports, which similarly cause individuals to associate their identities as part of a larger whole. A recent story on the NHL lockout touched on this issue, with University of Illinois psychologist Edward Hirt pointing out the similarities.

“The groups that we belong to really signify to a great extent some large components of our own personal identity,” he said. “Let’s take a Yankee fan. That may be one of the first things that somebody from (New York) says to somebody; ‘I’m a Yankee fan.’ That’s a key part of their identity.”

It seems there’s no easy way to bring someone out of fanboy-ism and into the realm of sanity, where their identity isn’t defined by a product or team. It has to happen naturally. I remember my own experience vividly, back in high school, when my favourite band Motley Crue kicked out its lead singer. It was the worst betrayal imaginable, but it taught me not to get emotionally invested in entities that exist only to take my money.

Most fanboys and sports fanatics will eventually encounter their own shocks to the system. Either a company betrays them or goes belly up or a sports team moves to another city or trades its best player. Until then, we’ll all have to keep enduring their obnoxious and often sociopathic behaviour.

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RIM fanboys and football fans: not so different

  1. Well at 49 yrs of age, & never had a cell phone, let alone many tower configured but more than fine for my addictive needs on line…..I have patiently weighed many options for years, and though you likely do have a valid point, my list of varied reasons brought me back to my first being BB10,. Though perhaps swaying away from the sweat shop mass produced friendly & easy to use options, my plans are for more specialized & less tweeting & more development & creativity. One of my delays is I just never got the whole concept of tweeting everything one does to the degree a minority do it. Nothing against the twitters as I joined that world recently too, via Facebook. Not all are beer knocking back lemmings, wide eyed to a jersey & loyal to the tumble of the lemming drop cliff ride….enjoyed your article & flwg if I may .CHeers, & have a gd 1.

  2. If there’s such a thing as a Blackberry fan boy then I guess I’m one of them. And while I’m not much of a football fan, I am a staunch Rob Ford supporter. He too seems to inspire the same sort of devotion (Ford Nation) you talk about.
    Both Blackberry and Ford have fallen out of favour in a very public way in recent months. And let’s face it, both probably deserved to be knocked down a peg or two. As a supporter of both I am used to hearing the same kinds of the jokes. I see the same holier than thou attitudes in their respective detractors, and I do often find myself defending my choices. I make no apologies for that. There’s a difference between loyalty and blind loyalty.
    Both Blackberry and Rob Ford are still fighting. I like that. They both still have a shot at redemption and who doesn’t like to root for the underdog? I continue to wish them well. If they fail then I guess I’m going down with the ship…or gravy train.

    • “……They both still have a shot at redemption…..”

      Blackberry, maybe, but Rob Ford? Ha! His obesity will end his life before he achieves ‘redemption’.

      • This joke (and the BBYE one below) are exactly what I’m talking about. Hate on, brother.

  3. “Research In Motion” is now “Blackberry”.
    The stock lists on the NASDAQ as BBRY.

    I think BBYE would be more apropos, no?