RIM fanboys and football fans: not so different

30 Jan
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 over the last 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.


Posted by on January 30, 2013 in RIM


6 responses to “RIM fanboys and football fans: not so different

  1. Marc Venot

    January 30, 2013 at 12:53 am

    They should be like the Woz (Steve Wozniak) that buy every year the new gizmo but keep its mind free.

  2. Mr. real

    January 30, 2013 at 1:30 am

    A canadian trollin’ a canadian company…….disgusting.

  3. petenowak2000

    January 30, 2013 at 8:52 am

    I didn’t say anything negative about any company. Thanks for proving my point.

    • russellmcormond

      January 30, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      Of course, nationalism is also part of the short-sighted tribalism inherent in these debates. RIM fanboys push the idea that Canadians should favour this “Canadian” company over others (how many Canadians were involved in the creation of the base operating system of Android and other platforms is never allowed to factor in). But if everyone did this RIM could never have been successful in the past as most of their money was made outside the country.

      I am perfectly willing to admit/promote/discuss how my identity is tied to the technology choices I make. I am a technology policy activist, and am going to rank companies by how much they are on the opposite side of policy debates from me. This is why I would never consider purchasing an Apple, Sony or Microsoft product (in that order, with Apple being the least likely) given the policy work of those companies against the rights and freedoms of technology owners (DRM, anti-malware/anti-spam legislation, net neutrality, etc, etc).

      RIM has been bad on patent policy, but is largely not interesting to me because their devices use yet another closed vendor-dependant (some call “proprietary”) OS in a world that needs this layer to become open and vendor-neutral. Why take a non-FLOSS mobile OS seriously when there are so many FLOSS and FLOSS-based alternatives out there — with Android being the most popular mobile OS out there.

      I run Linux on my desktops and servers (at home and work), and Linux-based Android on my mobile devices. Purchasing technology as close to my policy beliefs as practical is a big part of my identity. While I don’t understand other peoples choices, I understand why they identify personally with them once those choices are made.

  4. Torontoworker

    January 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Every time the Toronto Star has a negative article (perceived as negative by the overly sensitive) the RIM employees go ape s**t and start posting hate comments under the articles – although they don’t identify themselves as employees – it’s pretty clear to people of average intelligence just who they are, especially when they start charging the Toronto Star with attempting to destroy RIM share prices. It’s quite funny actually. I wonder if they are told to defend their company or they really do feel this passionate about their products to the exclusion of reality? Scientology should consider recruiting in the KW area – these people qualify as gullible enough…

  5. craigbamford

    February 4, 2013 at 11:28 am

    The Motley Crue and sports examples (as well as nations, employers, communities, etc.) seems to show us that this sort of impulse is universal. So, um, good luck with this “realm of sanity”. I suppose the first step will be finding someone who’s actually in it.

    (In the meantime, you may want to reconsider casually dropping the word “sociopath” to describe critics.)

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