When two tribes go to war.

Written by

Andrew Millar


April 22, 2007

The basic tenet of all we do for our clients at Black Sheep is to create brand tribes.

A brand in itself is not a logo, a set of colours or a font. A brand is the gut feeling people have about you. And when you have enough people with the same gut feeling, you have a valuable brand tribe.

Brands these days have more to do with kinship than symbols, names and slogans.

Some would say that this shift in understanding is the result of the commoditisation of products. There is no longer any real difference between the things we buy. Any product advantages are copied quickly. Reliability issues are a moot point. And marketers hide features behind proprietary names to avoid direct comparison. (The only detergent with Vitoblat X! to keep your pipes sparkling clean!)

All that is left is an emotional response.

But while I can see that this commoditisation excuse is a logical path to follow, I don’t know that it is the whole story.

I believe there is a growing desire for tribalism in people. People are feeling the need to connect.

Sigmund Freud postulated an origin… that tribes rose out of bands or small powerless groups that held together for mutual survival. Bands could not raise an army. Their leaders had little power. They could not create a surplus. Or gather taxes. So to survive, bands had to become tribes.

I repeat, to survive, bands had to become tribes.

Today, we still fear for our survival.

Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy was perhaps the last American President who thought in global terms. He acted on the premise that what was good for the world, was good for America. He dealt with Soviet bluff and bluster with survival of the world tribe as paramount.

3 shots in Dallas marked that grave for ever. And people began to feel insecure, which proved to be convenient for those who wanted power.

Fear of communism, the ‘Yellow Peril’, North Korea and Islam have all been manipulated to feed fear and increase our sense of tribe for political purposes.

Fast forward to September 11, 2001 and tribes and tribalism become even more important.

Tribal lines were drawn. The warmongers within them mobilized.

The current war in Iran is a tribal mess. All wars are a tribal mess.

Of course tribalism is not a modern invention. We can trace tribalism back to the first sentient beings.

So will the brand tribes we create ever go to war? A street fight between the Illy and Starbucks could be very messy.

But tribal warfare happens every weekend in Australia. We just call it organized sport.

And the biggest tribal fight happens every year just outside of Bathurst. Blue v Red. The big end of town v the workers. Industry v labour. The Ford v General Motors. It’s a classic fight that dates back to the American Civil War (sorry, the War Between the States.)

Tribalism is not just an idea whose time has come. It has been with us since we left the primordial slime. Only lately have we recognised its power to move product, not just the borders between countries.