Our guest author Aditya Jaishankar lists all the marketing lessons a new sport offers marketers advertising professionals, entrepreneurs, product innovators and habit shapers.
It was pre-pandemic when I first heard of a game called pickleball. What struck me as unusual was it seemed a strange combination of different sports. Perhaps a beautiful blend of tennis and table tennis.
When I read a little more I found that in the United States, Pickleball, a tennis-like sport was gaining immense popularity. In India I observed a few people playing this sport at their clubs.
What I observed was that this sport, played with paddles and a wiffle-like ball on a small court, is conducive to provide not just enough exercise but also socialising. This got me curious and I started playing the sport myself.
In India Pickleball is played more in the elite clubs but its popularity is spreading slowly but surely beyond just the elite clubs. What seems really interesting for me is that even people who have never bothered about sports earlier on in their lives are now rearranging their lives to accommodate pickleball in their daily job lists.
A lot of people who perhaps never played tennis or any other outdoor game are actually gravitating towards this sport. It is like building a new category and urging reluctant consumers to try out something new.
So what accounts for this pickleball fever?
Let us examine the semiotics of the sport and the barriers that it has dissolved in a very clever manner.
In other words let us look at some pointers in the Pickleball strategy:
Shatter entry barrier
The adoption of a new category or concept come with a whole host of barriers and biases. There are ways in which a concept can be made more palatable to the audience. There are techniques that perhaps nudge an audience to try out something for the first time. Pickleball has some distinct advantages in this respect
Creating a clear distinct advantage within a familiar frame of reference
Pickleball is compared with tennis. A lot of newbies say “this is a simpler form of tennis. It does not require as much strength and energy but yet provides me with enough exercise for the day”. As was overheard in a chat among women before entering the pickleball court “this is like a mini workout by itself”.
An easier way of getting to playing an exciting court game and yet having it a little easier than expected from a growling session.
The size of the court is less than that of a tennis court, the racquet is like an extended table tennis bat which makes it feel easy to swing. The service is a simple underarm service which takes away the hurdle of having to master an additional skill to become competitive enough.
Build in addictive elements cleverly
The short distance between players almost makes it conducive to socialisation while playing doubles just for fun. It is almost like having a conversation and having your exercise too. The best of both worlds chatting and playing can indeed be addictive, just like walking long distances with a friend who is constantly chatting by your side can become habitual.
When you reduce the effort needed in an outdoor sport, it automatically becomes easier to play it for a long time. The rallies at pickleball typically tend to last longer even if you are a beginner as it is easier for you to cover the court and hit back a few shots with ease.
Some people are even drawn in by the sound: the mysterious “pop-pop-pop,” that creates a kind of background noise for the sport I guess.
My personal experience was that it made me feel as if I was playing an outdoor video game which guarantees a high every time I play.
A small victory or win is essential to keep one motivated
Every game of pickleball has its share of small victories. Even a novice is able to hit an amazing shot or two that gets the better of their more experienced and athletic opponent. This gives one an illusion of having improved with every game. The ability to win a few points and impress others around you as well with a clever shot or move definitely has its own high. Literally, the small everyday victories make one look forward to making this sport a part of their everyday job list.
Immediate gratification is a great means of reinforcing the habit creation loop.
8 se 80 tak - Elements that add universality
An informal consumer research over casual conversations revealed common reasons for people across age groups to get attracted to this sport.
Players of all levels cited similar reasons for its appeal: Pickleball is friendly and fun; competence comes quickly. It fosters community and a sense of camaraderie in a way that surprises and delights them.
Finding a common denominator, like effortlessness, ease of competence, bringing in a sense of informality and even some spontaneity can make a huge difference to the adoption of a new concept, in this case, a new sport. Allowing a person to be true to their nature is perhaps the best way of connecting with them
Innovative fusion of diverse elements
Fusion has now been discussed for donkey’s years as a holy grail to win over multiple audiences across sports, music, and make things all the more colourful, exciting and fast-paced. This is another example of how thoughtful weaving together of elements can create a perfect match to delight audiences.
While the popularity of pickleball will continue to grow it is perhaps a good idea to take a pause and have a closer look at how this sport almost perfectly blended various dimensions to increase its appeal.
(The author is founder of Voxbox, an app for children. He is also ex-South India planning head, McCann.)