Opinion

Embrace your weaknesses: What marketers can learn from the AFL’s Richmond Football Club

After Richmond Football Club’s Damien Hardwick spoke out about embracing your weaknesses, Thinkerbell co-founder Adam Ferrier reflects on the lessons marketers can learn from the club.

Anyone who knows me knows that drawing parallels between marketing and footy isn’t really my thing. The world doesn’t need another metaphor by which to understand marketing and business. However…

Adam Ferrier: not one for marketing metaphors. However…

This weekend saw the Richmond Football Club win the AFL Premiership for the first time since 1980. It was a prediction I made before the finals series started, after I read an article featuring team captain Trent Cotchin.

In the article he quotes his amazing coach Damian Hardwick. Note: I am not a Richmond supporter – I have four teams – in order they are West Coast, Dockers, Sydney and St Kilda. As another note the AFL (and NRL) should support every fan adopting another team or two – it would double membership and viewership overnight.

Here’s the tweet:

And here’s the quote from The Age that really stuck with me:

“The environment we’ve created around the club as a whole is to be yourself,” he said. “Everyone is different and we celebrate those imperfections, rather than everyone thinking they need to be this perfect human being, showing no emotion. The reality is that we’re human beings. Every human has imperfections to some degree. We’re celebrating that rather than try to hide away from it.”

The depth and emotional intelligence that Damian Hardwick has instilled in RFC was the reason they won the Premiership so convincingly this coming Saturday.

So, what can we take away as marketers from this article? Stop striving for perfection? We already know this – skunk works, fail fast, iterate as you go. We know all that (well most of us do except the owners of BASES I and II (Nielson), but that’s for another day.

What we need to learn from Hardwick’s words is to not just embrace our weaknesses but rather we need to go further and celebrate and amplify them. For it’s our weaknesses where our true defining character lies. Our strengths are most likely generic, it’s our weaknesses that define us.

As Batman said to Robin: “The brighter the picture the darker the negative”, and as Jung said to someone “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious”.

Marketing is still mostly trying to accentuate the positives and risks coming off feeling contrived, inauthentic, and glib. Further, everyone else is doing the same thing so highlighting our strengths is not particularly differentiating. Hardwick, Batman, and Jung know there is strength in amplifying our weaknesses.

Further, other industries have known the power of amplifying our weaknesses for years; the entertainment industry is obsessed with crime, marital dysfunction, and revenge. Politics is obsessed with bringing down the opponent, and the news media are obsessed with clickbait (the same information presented with a negative headline will be clicked about 30% more than with a neutral or positive headline).

There’s good reason for all of this embrace of negativity – and it comes back to psychology, specifically our cognitions and our emotions.

Cognitively we have an inbuilt ‘negativity bias’ – that is we process and code negative information more strongly than positive. Further, a taxonomy of our six primary emotions shows that four are negative (disgust, anger, sadness, and fear), while only one is positive (joy), while one is both positive and negative (surprise).

Again, it is much more important for us to quickly attune to negative feelings for survival: is the milk off? (disgust), is the bear going to attack? (fear) than positive such as joy (isn’t the flower beautiful?).

So back to Damien Hardwick, let’s all take a leaf out of his book and find ways to amplify and celebrate our weaknesses – this is the path to true authenticity. Throw out your ‘Strength Finder TM’, forget your perfect ‘bite, chew, smile’ food shot, and stop talking about your ability to marry ‘style with performance’. We don’t believe you. Embrace your ‘Lemon’, like VW, and that you’re second in the market so you’ll try harder like Avis.

We all harbour weaknesses and insecurities, imagine how cool it would be if marketers not only embraced this but liberated us all from having to hide these. Who knows, just like Richmond you may win a premiership.

Adam Ferrier is co-founder of THINKERBELL and curator of MSIX

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