Friday, December 2, 2011


Apple is a unique company for it’s loved by many and envied too by an equal number of people, especially its competitors. First, every mobile phone company tried to copy the iPhone; and now, taking subtle shots at the iPhone is a gimmick being used by all. However, in November 2011, Apple’s most aggressive competitor Samsung went a step further as it blatantly compared its Galaxy S II model with the iPhone. The advertisements poked fun at the iPhone buyers who were shown as people ready to stand in a queue for days to get their hands on the latest iPhone, while a better phone (meaning the Galaxy) was already there with the smarter ones. The ad mocked the iPhone users for buying the iPhone4S when in fact there was no visible difference between iPhone4 and 4S. Moreover it did not have a great battery life and its screen was not as wide as that of the Galaxy. Whether the Galaxy is better than the iPhone is secondary, the debate is, “Is this kind of advertising going to work for Samsung?” It has managed to get everybody’s attention with its provocative ads; but would this help it sustain in the market place?

Talking of ‘provocative’ advertisements Unilever found itself in a tight spot when its internet campaign for Lynx deodorants was banned by Advertising Standards Authority (US) as it was considered degrading to women. To prevent further damage, on November 25, 2011, Unilever immediately posted a “Sorry from Lynx” video on YouTube, which featured the same model (this time, less provocatively dressed) returning all the props she had used in the ad and saying sorry to the viewers. Sometimes brands lose focus and do things, which appear to give quick results but can actually prove fatal for the brand in the long run. It was named one of America’s hottest brands in 2010. After spending close to $23 million in advertising (in 2009) on its ‘Easy- Tone’ shoes, Reebok was hot property as its shoes sold like hot cakes. Approximately 5 million pairs of ‘EasyTones’ were sold in 2010 alone. Every woman wanted these ‘magic’ shoes that could do wonders to her figure without much effort. It seemed too good to be true. Well, it probably was, for in September 2011, the Federal Trade Commission (US) announced that Reebok had deceptively advertised toning shoes and apparel; subsequently, Reebok was asked to withdraw its advertisements and pay $25 million as settlement charges. The marketer, though still standing by its claims, said that it agreed to pay to avoid a protracted legal battle. For a company that spent $23 million in 2009, then another $31 million in 2010 and add to that another $10 million in 2011 in marketing its ‘toning’ products, this was a big blow. It was after all a brand positioning strategy that was created and nurtured for 3 years. Now the company will not be able to use this strategy anymore.

Yes, the market place is tough and times are even tougher nowadays, but this growing competitiveness should not force marketers (and definitely not the big ones) to succumb to pressure and take recourse to unethical means. Poking fun, using sexual innuendos or making promises that are just not true are not things that the consumer of today likes.

The consumer is very finicky and your unethical means may put him off.


As products get similar, as market shares get reduced, companies are doing what it takes to win in the market place. Even before the consumer responds, it’s your competitor who responds to your marketing strategy immediately. The response could be a counter advertisement or even a complaint. Gone are the days when companies were content to fight on TV through commercials or in the grocery-aisles; today, increasingly, the battle is fought in the courtrooms. Not surprising that the number of complaints to get the competitor’s advertisements withdrawn have increased manifold. In fact, according to an article in the New York Times, never have there been so many complaints been lodged by brands against their competing brands as have been done in the past few years. The number of legal battles has increased dramatically too, especially after the recession. The goal is not to get money, but to snatch away market share. Everybody is keeping an eagle watch on everybody else. Brands are going to any extent to pull the competitor down. Pantene Conditioner challenged Dove on its claim that it ‘repaired’ hair better than Pantene. To prove its claim, Dove did a study which measured the ‘combing force’ required for treated hair, it also provided statistics on number of hair breakages in a 200- strokes-per-tresses test. Finally, it got an expert to defend its decision of using ‘wet combing’ instead of ‘dry combing’.

You need to go to ridiculous heights to stay in business. Most importantly, you need to be alert or else you could get sued and lose out to your competitors. A few months back, Molson Coors was quick to complain that its competitor Heineken’s ads, which showed a man at a party impressing the guests with his stylish moves, was an irresponsible ad because it gave the impression that alcohol could enhance personal qualities and talents. Heinekin managed to prove that this was not so as nowhere was the man actually shown drinking the beer. It saved a good ad from being taken off air by irrational complaints from competitors. The point is, right or wrong, you will have competitors gunning after you, trying their best to pull you down; so just making a good advertisement is not enough. You must have your defenses, your justifications planned even before you release the advertisement, or else you might not be able to save your best campaign and you may lose the market share!


It’s true that brands are doing everything possible to pull their competitors down. Is it worth the trouble? In 2008, Campbell Soup claimed that its soups were made with ‘tender love and care’ while those of General Mills were made with MSG (a banned chemical). As expected, General Mills too immediately retaliated. Then both companies went and complained to the advertising review division. The outcome of the complaint and counter complaint is not important. What’s interesting to note is that the sales of the soups of both companies have kept declining ever since. The consumer refused to trust either of them.

When healthy comparisons turn to mud slinging, both parties lose. A brand is a promise and all brand makers should remember this fact and honor it. As consumers, we love our brands and listen to their claims and trust those claims. An intelligent marketer will never ever mess with the trust his consumers put on him. He will not use dirty tricks to outsmart his competitors, as in the long run, it’s the stronger brand that survives and wins. These petty tricks do manage to get attention, but they tend to put the consumer off too. The flip side is that today, the market is a very rough place and you need to be on your toes all the time. One wrong move could be disastrous.

There are better ways of increasing market share. Some of the good old things never get old-fashioned. Dove realized this as this year has seen its sales soar globally. No cheap gimmicks, it just concentrated on giving better products and its advertisements managed to strike an emotional chord with the consumers. Similarly, Chevrolet Cruze this year has become GM’s hottest selling car brand. When it comes to cars today, the consumer is looking for fuel efficiency and that is exactly what the brand promised in its advertisements: “40 miles per litre...”

It was not lawsuits and unethical ads that ensured that the Korean car manufacturer Kia became the most successful car of the year, but rather its focus on the consumer. Its target were young buyers so it focused on things this group liked; for example, an upmarket sound system, a robust engine, good mileage and some hamsters too! It used three cute hamsters in its advertisements to showcase the merits of its car ‘Soul’ – and voila, the car and the company today feature in America’s list of hottest brands! No poking fun at the competitor; but just a serious focus on brand building, and this mobile phone company has beaten the Goliaths hollow. It sold more smartphones in the third quarter than Apple or Samsung! HTC set out on its own just two years back (it used to be a nameless manufacturer that made phones for other brands) and today, this brand tops the US smartphone market.

There is no shortcut to success and nothing succeeds like simple hard work. The laws of business have probably not changed much as all these brands have shown. If you want to win, play with sincerity; for a brand is a promise and those who keep promises are loved the most. As with people so with brands, don’t let the other person lose trust in you. It’s the only way to become a true hero !


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