Using your audience's competitive streak to your advantage

Photo Credit - Flickr CC: FotoBartAs mentioned last month in our infographic of the UK’s cultural quirks and attitudes, people in the UK rate highly on Professor Geert Hofstede’s “masculine” scale when compared to other cultures around the world.

But rather than implying that the British are all lager drinking, wolf-whistling builder types who like to indulge in a bit of 11-a-side and casual violence at the weekends (admittedly I watched Danny Dyer in Football Factory recently), the term “masculine” is being used in a slightly different sense here.

Whereas Mr. Dyer perhaps judges masculinity on the number of cheeky tequilas you can handle on a Saturday night, Professor Hofstede is discussing it as a certain set of traits that are more commonly (and perhaps stereotypically) associated with men, but that can be exhibited by both sexes.

Understanding what a high MAS score means

People in countries with high masculine scores, like the UK, are driven by competition and place high value on individual achievement and success. This value system begins at school, with good performance earning rewards like gold stars, merits or certificates of achievement, and carries on throughout our working lives with pay rises and bonus schemes. People like to stand out from the crowd and express their success through declarations of achievement and material reward.

It should be noted that the UK’s MAS score of 66 means these values are not quite as prevalent as in countries like Japan for example (which scores a whopping 95) but are still considerably higher than countries like Norway and Sweden (scoring 8 and 5 respectively), which are considered more relationship oriented.

These values are also in stark contrast to how UK culture is generally viewed by other countries – as a place where politeness and modesty are considered the norm (along with queuing). A reason for this is that foreigners aren’t always able to understand the British sense of humour, which is heavily laced with sarcasm, dry wit and the need to “read between the lines” of what is actually being said.

So despite the often commonly held British belief that it’s not polite to blow one’s own trumpet, people in the UK have a clear ambition and desire to succeed above those around them.

High MAS in action

One way that this obsession with achievement can be tracked is through the popularity of gaming. Video games, once considered to be a pastime enjoyed only by young and geeky males, are now enjoyed by an increasingly aging audience of both genders. According to a survey by the Entertainment Software Association the average age of a gamer is now 30 years old.

The desire for achievement can also be seen in how games have changed over the years: Consider that Sonic the Hedgehog was relatively short in length but had no save option and required a ‘learn through repetition’ approach that often meant only those that persevered would complete it. Compare this to modern games with their multiple checkpoints, tutorials, ability to save anywhere and options to lower the difficulty when stuck, and you can see that these games are geared so that everyone reaches some degree of satisfaction so that ‘everyone is a winner’.

Then there are open-ended games like World of Warcraft or Call of Duty’s multiplayer, in which players are continually drawn in by the prospect of earning increasingly better rewards further down the line, if they just play for that little bit longer. This change in game structure has widened the audience for gaming and increased the amount of time people spend playing games, enabling the industry to grow to the point where the release of some games now commands the gravitas and the budget of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Photo Credit - Flickr CC: MeLY3oGames companies make their money through a continuous cycle of challenges and rewards to keep their audience coming back, and nowhere is this more prevalent than the ‘free to play’ business model on mobile platforms. Money is made by getting players hooked on a concept for free before providing them with purchasable extra content or shortcuts so that they can achieve their rewards faster.

A prime example of this is Candy Crush Saga, the addictive colour matching game that is reportedly played 700 million times a day and frequently tops the highest grossing app on the iOS App store. Over 90 per cent of the game’s players are over 21, further evidence that adults harbour a desire for satisfaction through gaming as much as children do. It was recently reported that the game earns $633,000 a day, in part helped by the father who earlier this year discovered that his son had charged $4,300 worth of Candy Crush “boosters” to his account in a month!

All of this goes to show that tapping into people’s desire for competition and reward can yield huge successes. So what tactics can marketers use from these examples?


Creating a game to sell a product or build a brand is an ambitious but now perfectly viable and effective marketing tool. There is a wealth of talented developers able to handle the technical aspects of game creation, tailoring elements to your campaign’s needs. Also, thanks to social media, if a game captures the right tone and is received positively by a player, they are likely to share it with their friends, thereby doing half the job of marketing for you.

Games as marketing tools are likely only played a few times by each person, if not just once, so they should be designed to be as sharable as possible and closely tied to your brand.

To do well with a British audience in particular, a game should be fun and quick to play (on a lunch break for instance), have a sense of humour and give the player a reward upon completion, perhaps a rating or statistic about the player that they can then compare themselves with their peers.

Email marketing

Implying that an offer you’re promoting has only been sent to a select group of people, has a tight deadline or a limited number of places can increase uptake as customers race to claim their reward. It’s a classic advertising tactic, but one that’s nevertheless effective.


Another great way of tapping into the UK’s competitive streak, a prize can be used to entice people to provide important marketing data like their personal details. As well as increasing the likelihood of more respondents, competitions with prizes are more likely to return genuinely useful answers as there is the implication that only entries that are completed properly with all the information requested will be entered into the draw. Read more about this in our article on reciprocity.

Competitions can also be used to build customer sentiment, particularly through social media. Challenging people to create their own content incorporating your brand and then sharing it on social media is a great way to engage your current followers and potentially attract new ones. It amazes me how creative some of the people who enter these competitions are. Who knows, perhaps one will be so good it could even be used to form the direction of your next marketing campaign?

Read more of our science of marketing series here.