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Madden NFL and men’s brand loyalty

October 7, 2003

Our research into the phenomenal success of the ‘Madden NFL’ video game series has revealed some interesting ways men form loyalties to brands. Electronic Arts has put out a new version of Madden every year for the past 14 years, selling over 30 million copies. In dorms, offices and living rooms around the country, men 9-30 are poised around their playstation, xbox or gamecube playing Madden-brand simulated football for hours a day.

Madden is primarily a console game, as distinct from a PC game, meaning it is usually played in living rooms on television sets rather than on PCs. Console gaming, and particularly sports games played on consoles, has escaped the dorky, pale-faced, socially awkward user-image usually associated with video-game obsession mostly because console gaming is often a social, competitive, multi-player activity. But more interesting to us was the degree to which obsession with Madden is actually considered cool among men under 30, across subcultures.

One reason why is that the mass popularity of Madden legitimizes the skills a guy develops within the game. He’s not alone in his living room playing some video game till 2AM, he’s practicing Madden, an American pastime, getting ready for his next match-up with his peers. On another level, competitive sports video games, and Madden in particular, satisfy the same kinds of urges that drive men out into the street to throw the football on Superbowl Sunday: the urge to participate and to fantasize. When a guy goes out for a pass in front of his house during half-time, he’s running, the ball’s in the air and for that split second, he’s Randy Moss. It’s one of the few experiences in his adult life of pure play, pure fantasy in a way that’s first cousin to playing Cowboys and Indians when he was five.

The video game market has now been around long enough that some game brands actually invoke the fuzzy feelings of nostalgia to a generation of young adults, tomorrow’s household decision makers, many of whom have been playing Madden since grade school. Even when new entrant games have better graphics or features, Madden wins out largely because of this nostalgic emotional momentum. This parallels our research about the ways men like to form loyalties toward ‘old’ brands in certain categories of consumer goods like shaving products, cleaning products and alcoholic beverages. The satisfaction of using a brand that feels similar to the ones you remember on your dad’s nightstand is a confirmation that you’ve grown up and are doing the things that your dad did when he seemed out of your league, like a giant.
Slate article about the popularity of Madden NFL

An interesting research project we are working on here at Influx is revealing that these fuzzy feelings that result from people attaching their personal histories to a brand are not necessarily connected with actual age of the brand. It really doesn’t make that much difference whether the brand was actually on the father’s nightstand or whether it was even on the market during the consumer’s youth. Rather, this type of brand-relationship arises from a set of meanings that a consumer imbues into a brand if that brand is an appropriate vessel, if it fits the consumers’ particular nostalgic meanings. It can be a new entrant brand, a repositioning or a brand extension and if it’s informed by the right research into the precise triggers, stories and unsatisfied nostalgic ‘itch’ of the target, and it’s executed with appropriate tone, imagery, packaging and carefully orchestrated consumer associations, any brand can credibly tap into this wellspring of personal connection and resulting loyalty.

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