Crosstown Hatred vs. Friendly Fire-in-the-Belly: How Rivalries Inspire Incisive Copywriting Strategies

Every morning during basketball season, Larry Bird did one thing before anything else.

He checked Magic Johnson’s statistics from the night before.

“I didn’t care about anything else,” stated Larry Legend.

Psycho? Potentially. Champion? Check. That fanatical drive exemplifies the essence of all the great rivalries, from Steve Jobs v. Bill Gates, to the Yankees v. Red Sox, to Ali v. Frazier. So why do we inherently love rivalries, and how can we harness their mesmerizing influence in our copywriting strategies?

Why We Love Rivalries

When we see two human beings or organizations pushing one another to the limits of their potential, something raises up inside of us.  Apple vs. Microsoft inspires us because their rivalry has radically changed what we thought was possible for technology.

Rivalries can change people’s lives.  Give them something to believe in.

Okay, okay, that’s all rosy and good, but what about the less evolved aspects of humanity?

Not all rivalries are particularly ‘enlightened’ Pepsi vs. Coke (uh, sugar water vs. sugar water?), or Derek Zoolander vs. Hansel (okay, I take that backthis definitely borderlines enlightened) come to mind.

Rivalries can turn sour as wellthere’s the good, the bad, and the guy at your daughter’s little league softball game who’s halfway to a heart attack from screaming at the refs and coaches about his kids playing time.  On a more sober note, consider the Biggie and Tupac rivalry, turned feud, turned tragedy.

Nowhere does rivalry function quite like in sports, and most of us have felt the goosebumps, sweaty hands, and full body prayers, as all of life seemingly funnels into one acute moment.  The tension is unbearable.

So how did we get here?  What’s the difference between good a standard rec league game where everyone shakes hands afterwards, and the game where the players avoid eye contact and the parking lot is like a kicked hive of mini-vans trying to escape?  What’s the difference between good ol’ competition and a rivalry? 

How Rivalries Work

Rivalry operates almost entirely in the realm of emotion. They’ve become personal, and therefore less rational; they revolve more around beating the opponent than actually winning.

Try and convince a Yankees fan that his team does indeed “suck,” and you might come away with a shiner. Moral: there will be no reasoning done here.

There’s also consistency with rivals. A history. A body of performance to which we measure the current match or product launch. A rich, complex relationship that amps up the intensity of any interaction between both parties.

And for those choosing sides, there’s the inherent social currency that goes along with rooting against “them.” Rivalries generate tribes and movements.

Given that purchases are largely emotional decisions, how can we to tap into the intensity of rivalry when considering our copywriting strategies?

How to Apply Rivalry Strategies to your Copy

It can be helpful to think of marketing as a simple equation: content marketing is to competition as copywriting is to rivalry.

Both are indispensable, but all that wonderful content that you’ve so generously crafted will lose its fizz without the directness of copy.

With that in mind, your organization can pick another organization that you’d like to be better than; in regards to marketing, pick your dream marketing campaign, and tell your copywriters or the agency you’ve hired to beat that.

Now, the point isn’t to tear the other company down, so choose something that upholds and raises your standards to write against consistently.

So how do we balance achieving more together, and pushing one another, without, well, hating one another?

What’s at stake if your audience doesn’t receive your product, or doesn’t experience your solution to their problem? What would their life be like without you? What would the world be like without your service or product?

Again, in a rivalry, the psychological stakes are more important than the outcome or prizes or titles. You can amplify this state for an audience by turning up the heat a little bit on their pain points. It may feel uncomfortable to be direct, but you can do this in a caring way⏤remember that the best rivalries, however bitter, were founded on a deep mutual respect.

So how can we stoke the primordial passions without bringing out the worst in people, or without sounding pushy and sending the wrong message to our audiences?

The game is played on a razor’s edge. A humane, considerate approach to this requires a delicate balance between push and pull. That’s where hiring a copywriting agency that understands human nature comes in (what we do best).

At MarketSmiths, the heat stays at a gentle simmer⏤see how we can help you raise your game.

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