Most of our parents used to tell us “If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all.” As marketers I don’t know if we always remember that advice.
Not too long ago while driving near my office I noticed a billboard for Mercury Insurance. The logo caught my eye first since my wife and I are clients of Mercury. My attention then went to the headline which read “Give your money to a bank. Not to a gecko.” Obviously this was a shot to their competitor Geico.
My first thought was “really?” Mercury is a strong and reputable brand. Why would they feel the need to resort to negative advertising? Just as important why would they want to draw attention to Geico unnecessarily? It’s possible that the billboard could remind someone “Yeah, I’ve been meaning to call Geico to save a few bucks!”
It’s been my opinion for many years that it’s an unwise branding move to mention or bash a competitor. That’s something I’d rather leave to politicians. Even in the 90′s when a competitor came into our market and literally badmouthed the institution I worked for at the time, I refused to resort to negative advertising and brand comparisons. As the VP Marketing and Business Development, I had more than one person on my team come to me and suggest a negative campaign in retaliation. My response was “We are the established brand in this market. If we lose business to them it’s due to what we’re doing as an organization and not because of what they may be saying.”
As it turned out, it was one individual that worked for our competitor that was spreading the negativity toward us. That company had a lot more class than he did and made him available for other employment once they discovered what he was doing.
Contrary to my opinions, however, there has long been another school of thought that if yours is the number two or number three brand in a category that it is acceptable to go directly after number one. That has been advocated by a few advertising experts that I respect. Doesn’t that point out to your audience that you’re not number one though?
It started me thinking, what are the branding rules in this situation today. In today’s society, especially given the rise of social media, branding is about telling your unique story and not throwing mud on someone else’s.
I am interested in hearing what you think. Is it acceptable to bash the number one brand? Is it acceptable to bring the negative aspects of your competitor to light in branding today?