Feeling special

It’s not Mo, or Jessica, or Ben, it’s US

Belonging. A core human need. The Olympics has been full of it

Every interview at the London 2012 Olympics has asked the British competitors about the support of the crowd.  The roar of encouragement has spurred them on to Olympian efforts and helped them to ‘dig deep’.    Which begs the question, why ARE the crowds shouting so hard?  The answer may seem obvious – to encourage the British athletes.  Well OK, that could be the reason –  ‘Come on Tim etc.’   Teams tend to be more successful at home than away, encouraged by a supportive crowd.

But what about the TV  audience?  The athletes can’t hear, so why are we all cheering, crying, and getting so shouty?

The real reason isn’t about the athlete, or the event.  Not really.  It’s about the individual and collective audience members expressing and satisfying a number of human needs.

I have a model that might help.  It was developed by some clever consultants called Censydiam (Centre for Systematic Diagnostics in Marketing) in Belgium (now part of Ipsos), and is used to understand why we humans do what we do.  How we feel about ourselves, how we respond to others, how we react to different situations.   (You will doubtless be familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  It’s good, but I prefer this one, because it shows how the needs fit together)

Human needs. We all have them, and it explains why we love sport. Censydiam consultants, now part of Ipsos developed it.


 A model of human needs


So, the model has two axes.  On the horizontal, it’s about how we relate to others.  Do we assert ourselves and our individuality (on the left), or are we wanting to nestle with others and to feel part of a group (on the right)?  On the model. the three on the left – notably Power, are related to individuality.  The three on the right – but especially Belonging,  are about relating to and with others.

Then there’s the vertical axis – with Enjoyment at the top and Control at the bottom.  This is about whether we want to let go and live a little – throw ourselves headlong into something fun or new (Enjoyment), or whether we want to settle a little, to take stock and focus on where we are comfortable (Control).

So, as with a compass with four directions (north, east, south, west), there are diagonal points (South East..).  So, pleasure seeking can be with other people (Conviviality), or as a statement of individuality – on our own- when we show our independence and sense of freedom.

If you combine individuality with being disciplined and in control, then we are looking to show what sets us apart – a feeling of status and pride sits here – that’s Recognition.  The same attitude, but with others in mind is covered by Security.  This is the desire to feel safe and relaxed – often this comes from feeling that others are safe too, it’s a protective urge.

This blog will talk about the Censydiam model again, because it helps explain why TV succeeds so well.  Television programmes that work are good at tapping into one (or more) of these human needs – and they are closely connected with the schedule and time of day.


So how does this fit with the Olympics

It shows that while the sport may have some intrinsic appeal, our motivation to cheer comes from a basic human need.  Yes, yes, a close finish can be enthralling whenever it happens, but we don’t generally watch races just because they are close.  The Olympics carries a far more powerful punch, especially when our country is represented.

Belonging:  It started with the opening ceremony which celebrated British people and British history, and now we are supporting our fellow Britons, and our pride in a successful British event

Security: Part of the Olympics is about indulgence in front of the TV… throwing off work or family concerns and settling into the warm embrace of the BBC coverage, watching athletes take the strain, but under no obligation to join in

Security: Safe hands while we indulge ourselves

Control: For some, the medal table provides a sense of order. The simplicity of the Gold, Silver, Bronze ranking. The clear schedule of the tournaments, clearly explained, and with dedicated TV channels for each sport helps

A clear schedule…. helps us feel in control

Recognition: This is relatively under-expressed during the games (apart from the athletes). Attending an event, or feeling a connection (paid for with my lottery money), or going for an Adlington-inspired swim may be ways in which we express our sense of self within a national celebration

Power: The athletes are all about this need to impress.  n some respects the pride that Britain is taking in TeamGB reflects an extension of the individual pride to a national level (3rd in the medals table etc).  It’s about US being great…

Recognition: Our desire to prove ourselves, bolstered by a medal table of people with whom we feel a connection

Vitality:  for some of us, watching 12 hours of sport a day is an adventure.  Watching new and unfamiliar sports is a small journey into a world we don’t know and, when the Olympics are overseas, it can involve the thrill of all night sessions

Enjoyment: Buying expensive tickets, belting out the national anthem, shouting support at an athlete we will never meet and had not heard of yesterday

Conviviality: Television is a social medium, best enjoyed with other people (or aware that millions of others are watching too).  Attending the events live helps with this, but at home you feel a social bond with the fans.

Conviviality: It’s fun to watch with others. It’s a core human need to connect

The Olympics are where these human needs are magnified.  With the Olympics being in London, and the raw thrill of the opening ceremony, it’s an experience that transcends others.  Sport is often good at this, but this isn’t just sport.  National occasions like the Diamond Jubilee involve a sense of national coming together too, but not on this scale.

It’s a once in a lifetime, magical occasion.






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