A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE

By Mark Daniell
Aug 14th, 2008

Tipping Point. There’s an expression that’s popped up out of nowhere and spread like an itchy rash.

Tipping Point. I’ll bet if you’d said those words five years ago people would have assumed you were talking about the point at which the service in a restaurant stopped being within the realm of the discretionary 12.5% and passed into the tipping point.

Not any more. Now it’s the social, marketing and epidemiological mot juste. Every idea or product is striving to reach its tipping point, the point where the flood gates open and it swamps society.

Youtube is full of tipping points in action. How else can you explain why 100 million people have watched an Avril Lavigne video? You can’t. There aren’t that many angsty teenagers out there, if there were Vaseline shares would be much hotter property.

The answer is more mundane. Basically, if an uninterested party is randomly browsing and sees that 100 million people have already watched something, they’ll assume it’s worth watching, click, and become the 100 million and first. Like a disease, Avril Lavigne spreads at an ever increasing rate.

Tipping points work because the concepts in question are infectious. Whether they are ideas, blog posts or waffle-soled shoes, they self-promote. One person sees another doing it, and in mimicking becomes both a statistic and a promoter. By increasing in volume, the epidemic has more area from which to spread, and it accelerates. iPod’s white headphones broadcast the owner’s purchase; Crocs’ disgraceful design stung the pupils; The annoying phrase ‘Tipping Point’ became de rigueur. And the epidemic spreads.

But why all this talk of tipping points? Well, last weekend, at the time of year usually spent lauding or belittling the Charity Shield but instead this time spent watching the cricket, I noticed in the papers an interesting statistic. One fan of each Premier League club was asked who they thought would win. Of the twenty clubs, nine said Man U; eleven said Chelsea.

So what? I hear you say, we were favourites to win it last year, and the year before that, it still didn’t make any difference. But this time the fact that Chelsea are edging it in the minds of the fans holds much more significance. This time round the belief that Chelsea will win rises from a different source.

Under Scolari, Chelsea are an unknown quantity – he has yet to coach a Premiership match – and yet still the impartials say we’ll win it. Ferguson has won two back to back seasons, is the only manager who has won three Premier League titles in a row and against the odds has kept his star player at Old Trafford, and yet still people think he’ll lose.

It’s not logic that’s giving Chelsea the edge, it’s fear. People fear what they don’t know. In spite of having come second in pretty much everything last season, Chelsea begin this one as an unknown quantity. For this reason, they are the team to avoid. In the minds of the opposition, the idea of Chelsea being champions has reached the tipping point.

So? What difference does that make?  A person’s opinion is hardly fact I hear you say. But consider this: Arsenal failed last season because they didn’t win enough games when they played badly. The implication is that Chelsea and Man U did. Where’s the difference? Was it with Arsenal? Perhaps. Or perhaps it was with the opposition. The opposition felt they could snaffle a point when playing against Arsenal. Against Man U and Chelsea, they resigned themselves to losing.

It doesn’t matter where it comes from, but if the idea starts to spread that a team is going to win, it becomes much harder to stop them doing so.  With Scolari at the helm, the league expects Chelsea to win, and if for that reason only, it’s exactly what will happen.

As an illustration of tipping point theory I will now go to my Facebook page and change my status to I AM SPARTACUS. I urge you to do likewise. It may take a while, but I reckon soon, like Chelsea FC, it will infect the globe.

(Apologies to Malcolm Gladwell.)

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