Rebellion and Belonging

This MasterCard advertisement is a terrific illustration of the interplay between the Conforming and Rebellious states of Reversal Theory, highlighting the benefits of both freedom and belonging, and how they interplay. Watch the video, and then see the Reversal Theory perspective below.

Belonging and Freedom: The Conforming and Rebellious States

In 16 seconds, this video captures the best of both belonging and being different.

Everything that happens in the car illustrates the desire to push against the norm, as changing the appearance of hair and designer clothing demonstrates uniqueness and a personal style that is counter to the expected. This is a signal of the Rebellious state, where pushing against what’s expected brings the positive emotion of feeling free. The ad beckons us to see a rebel proclaiming his own way, and making his look his own.

As soon as our main character saunters to join his friends, though, the focus changes. Now, it is not independence that is valued, but rather, fitting in with a peer group, being one of the gang. What we first saw as Rebellious is now someone wanting to fit in. It is now the best of the Conforming state, which leads to positive emotions from belonging to a group that one cares about. There is an “us against the world” image here: we seek the positive aspects of Conforming with a group we care about, so that together we can declare our independence (our Rebelliousness) against the world.

The ad is fun, but the most powerful tool has little to do with the content itself. Anyone who has seen a MasterCard ad can predict its comfortable structure: a series of concrete items that one can buy, and then one intangible benefit that one cannot. Everything about the ad tells us it is “the latest from MasterCard” – brand recognition achieved through highly ritualized structure. This is a brilliant use of the Conforming state; it is a predictable ad campaign framework, with great flexibility for creativity at the ad level.

Want to see another great one from MasterCard?  Visit Care and Compassion.

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