Written by Noemi Pollack on November 23, 2009.
Maybe it is because of today’s economy that has resulted in desperate times for marketers, but it has become blatantly obvious that marketers of leading brands are playing “war games” with their competitors, as they fight harder to win or retain market share. In particular, leading up to the Holiday Season, which is kicking off on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, could have been the motivator for engaging in desperate measures, negative or not.
Witness the recent Verizon ad that showed a map of the US with dots as to ATT ‘s cell phone coverage. It showed vast empty spaces, clearly implying that ATT has limited coverage, prompting an immediate suit from ATT for false claims. Verizon shot back that “the truth hurts,” and defending its claims. Lawyers suddenly became very busy.
These games are not new, but have been escalating in numbers unseen before and to the point of willfully misleading consumers and, more significantly, impacting sales on all sides.
Most claims are much over nothing.
For example Pantene versus Dove, has Pantene attacking Dove’s claim that its conditioner “repairs” hair better, while Science Diet versus Iams, has that company claiming that “No other dog food stacks up like Iams.” Campbell Soup versus Progresso, had a particular damaging ad, when Campbell soup said its Harvest lines of soup are “Made with TLC,” while competitor Progresso’s soups are “Made with MSG.” And then there was Direct TV, who a few months ago had a banner straight across its ad, claiming that competitor Charter Cable’s bankruptcy, would affect its service. Charter sued and lawyers became busier.
Interesting that it is the dueling marketers that are forcing their competitors to show proof, rather than the “watchdog,” an advertising division of the FTC, which requires by law to have a reasonable factual basis for their commercials. But filing a complaint with the National Advertising Division, even though a cheaper route than going to court is voluntary and has no legal power. Defending claims therefore, requires companies to delve into minutiae, as in supplying test results, providing proof for statements and seeking experts to substantiate it all.
These war games are really desperate measures, replacing well thought-out campaigns with messaging unique to the brand.
Here’s what I have to say to marketers that engage in such wars: there has to be a marketing strategy that becomes the basis for all forms of communications, be it advertising, public relations, promotions or digital marketing, one that provides the directional thought for driving a brand forward, without resorting to slamming the competition simply because of a dearth of creative and persuasive messaging, which should win the hearts and minds of consumers. Deliberate misinformation or negative implications vis-à-vis competitors only weakens a brand at a time when social engagement, i.e., “befriending” consumers, is imperative to the success of a brand.
Here’s another thought: attacking and suing is one way of getting publicity, albeit negative. It’s a by-product, but I certainly hope that it is not part of any plan.