As in the television program, Cheers, everyone wants to belong somewhere. Everyone wants to call some place home. Nuclear and extended families have always been tribes. Often, churches are tribes. Some times, towns are tribes. Schools can be tribes. Increasingly, political parties are tribes. Is your state a blue state or red state? You may be part of the NRA tribe or perhaps you are a part of the Tesla tribe. Maybe you are a part of the Wall Street tribe. Or maybe you are a part of the super yacht tribe. You could be proud to be called a tree hugger. Or maybe you feel completely comfortable with the redneck label.
Recently, a growing number nation states are shying away from regional and global alliances to retreat to their nation-state tribes. And sometimes people feel more comfortable in their state or local tribe. Witness Texas or Vermont or Quebec. Or how about Portlandia or "The City" (New York) or the "Hub" (Boston)? Everyone knows Austin is intent on keeping itself weird. And everyone knows what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. And, as the recent emergence of hate groups have brought to light, some people only feel comfortable with people of their own race and are intent on dehumanizing people of other races.
This all get down to personal identity, comfort and feeling safe. Often, we fear what we don't know. At a minimum, many of us feel uncomfortable in places that seem alien to us. For instance, some people may not feel comfortable in an upscale specialty store that requires one to be buzzed in. While others may not feel comfortable at a hockey game or in a trailer park. Many people may not feel comfortable where confederate flags are flying, while others may not feel comfortable at a black tie gala. City folks may feel scared in the country while country folks may feel scared in a big city. And, if you are in a tribe, it is easier to place blame on the other tribe rather than take personal responsibility for an outcome. And most of us enjoy having an enemy or two. I remember wearing at hat that was given me at "The Game" (Harvard vs. Yale football). It said "Go Harvard Yale Sucks." At the same game, they were also passing out a variation of that hat: "Go Yale Harvard Sucks."
Brands can play off of tribalism in a variety of ways. They can appeal to a specific tribe such as Tesla, FOX News, MSNBC, The Peninsula Hotels, Duck Dynasty, Orvis or Carhart. Or increasingly, they can appeal to a much broader view of the world in which one reaches out across tribes. Witness these recent ads:
- Heineken "Worlds Apart" ad
- Budweiser's Super Bowl 2017 Commercial: "Born the Hard Way"
- Coca-Cola's Super Bowl 2014 Commercial: "America the Beautiful"
A spiritual counselor once told me that to reach a deeply awakened state your embrace needs to be unbounded. That is, your loving kindness and compassion needs to be unconditional and unbounded. Rather than a response of judgment and condemnation, the response should be one of empathy, understanding and caring. Put another way, you have only truly arrived home when your concept of tribe is as wide as the universe.
So whether your brand aligns itself with a specific tribe or two or whether it is one of the more enlightened brands that encourages one to extend one's reach across tribes, the notion of tribalism is useful for brand managers to understand and use.