Villing & Company

Attack with Caution

Marketers are taking a page from the political advertising playbook. It’s an interesting strategy, but not without risks.

The October 2 Wall Street Journal ran a story about food marketers like Domino's, Burger King and Campbell's Soups calling out their rivals with what is essentially attack advertising. To be sure, by political standards, the attacks are pretty mild and some are more good-natured than others. And comparative advertising has been around for a long time. Remember the Coke/Pepsi cola wars?

As I noted in previous "views," negativity always has the potential of undermining the credibility of the attacker as much as the attackee. If a brand has a high, what I’ll call "likeability" factor, it runs the risk of devaluing itself by engaging in overly aggressive competitive advertising. Few consumers feel comfortable being placed in the middle of an advertising argument.

The other risk of comparative advertising is that one is actually calling attention to the competition. At the very least, that is free advertising for the competitor. Worse is the very real potential for confusion between the competing brands. If the consumer can’t distinguish who is saying what about whom, who wins?

History has shown that when the economy gets tight, advertising takes on a harder edge. Price and items promotions replace brand image advertising. Comparison advertising trumps more emotion based message strategies.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to be more aggressive, but my counsel would be to make sure your tactics are tied to a well-thought-out strategy. Be aggressive if you must, but if you must attack, do so with caution.

Filed Under: advertising

Villing & Company

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