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  • Lyle Burns

Influential Brand Elements: The Power of an Enemy

This post is a part of our 10 Elements of an Influential Brand series where we cover the essentials to building a powerful brand. Follow this series to learn how to attract an audience, keep them engaged, and turn them into loyal fans.


A Brand, Like a Hero, Needs an Enemy

“People come together in the presence of disagreement… they not only feel more alive, but the ‘community’ feeling that conflict generates ripples through everything.”

- From Small Data by Martin Lindstrom

The sense of community that stems from disagreement comes from picking a side, which inherently makes someone feel like they are an insider with those on the side they are supporting.

Let’s consider “fanboys” of any product.

They tend to be insanely loyal and are ready to jump into conflict with the fans of competing brands. Competition creates a sense of favoritism and an insider versus outsider dynamic, with your brand being the chosen inside group that fans want to associate with.

This is something we often see with sports, which is why leagues and in particular sports teams have some of the most influential brands and dedicated fanbases. Fans naturally are able to bring forth antagonistic feelings towards rivals, without it seeming out of place or evil.

Establishing Competition in Your Messaging

Apple’s Mac vs PC advertising campaign is a great example of how to draw a line of competition that encourages fans to choose a side.

In those early Apple commercials, they highlighted the brand’s contrasting values and benefits against the PC and people who identified with those values or attributes flocked to Apple.

Additionally, they made the differences clear and simple. The Mac was youthful, creative and it could simply your life in numerous ways. In contrast, Apple highlighted how the PC was traditional, outdated and slow to innovate.

Today, Apple is taking a similar approach with the iPhone and targeting Android as the inferior enemy.


In a previous post, I mentioned that the power of association was a real thing.

This idea is backed by a study done by the Corporate Executive Board. In the study they found that, “Of the consumers in our study who said they have a brand relationship, 64% cited shared values as the primary reason. That’s far and away the largest driver”.

They also found that “77% of consumers do not want a relationship with a brand.” That’s completely fine because those consumers are casual engagers and occasional fans.

As a creative, your main focus of marketing should be targeted towards your core fans or your “1000 true fans”, a concept, coined by Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine, and which we talk about in our book, The Primer: Marketing 101 for Music Artists. Those are the ones who want and will have a relationship with your brand. They will rally around the values you portray and be your die-hard supporters.

Your Brand’s Story Can Thrive with an Enemy

Throughout our series on the 10 Elements of an Influential Brand, we’ve stressed the importance of storytelling, but what’s a story without an enemy?

This helps build camaraderie amongst your fans because their opinion is heard, voiced and shared by someone with a platform. They’re a part of a community that wants to unite against an enemy which they originally might have felt was only theirs.

For example, many successful female R&B artists have told impactful stories by pinpointing disrespectful and unappreciative men as the enemy. Keyshia Cole and Mary J. Blige have made a career out of telling these stories on behalf of many women who have shared their pain and may have felt alone in the suffering.

Stories about the enemy is also why rap beef is so entertaining, or the console wars in video games, or the idea of a super team in sports being a villain. But in the sense of an enemy you don’t need to attack other artists, just to have an enemy. Some artists stand up against institutions, such as labels or the government and target them as the enemy.

There is another alternative as well. You can position yourself against a behavior, a belief, a cultural movement or philosophy that you and your fans are against. It could be lack of substance in music, lack of creativity or originality. Or it could be standing against unsupportive people, unappreciative fans, or greedy companies, or whatever else you strongly don’t believe in.


Find a way to articulate your values and the philosophies, behaviors, or beliefs that do not resonate with your or that you dislike, then get that out in the world. People with similar values as you will rally around you.

But remember, don’t look like a whiner, wallowing in pity. Instead look like a fighter, going against those opposing values to champion your values, so that you can be an image that your fans proudly support.

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