Manning vs Brady. Gore vs Bush. Seinfeld vs Newman. People love a good rivalry. Be it athletic, political or otherwise, we want to anchor ourselves to a side. Preferably the winning one.
This competitive desire is often exploited in advertising. Known as Challenger Brands, companies create or fuel rivalries between themselves and their mightier, more established opponents. Whether transparent or opaque, the pursuant battle can get downright nasty.
Paul Suggett writes in an article for The Balance, "Over the years, many great challenger brands (Avis, Pepsi, VW, Dockers, Virgin Atlantic) have taken on the big brand leaders (Hertz, Coke, Ford, Haggar, British Airways) and they have all been very, very successful with this strategy. The reason for their success is clear. Even if the challenger brand doesn't have the money or power to go head to head in an ad campaign for a long period of time, it does have the ability to start a fight. And when the big brand accepts the challenge, the strategy pays off, big time."
But this tactic should be approached with caution - badmouthing can backfire. It can seem like weakness and fear. Also, it can come off as insulting to prospective consumers by attacking prior decisions they may have made. Plus, no one likes arrogance and boasting – it’s amateurish and feels like compensation for a lack of confidence. (Especially from a new player.) As the saying goes, “Act like you’ve been there before.”
Pepsi did this beautifully in this ad. It was humorous and did not come across as arrogant.
A company can tarnish the luster off their competitor the right way. Sure, it's critical for a brand to distinguish itself. Part of that must be clearly defining what makes them different in the marketplace, and more importantly, better than ‘the other guy’. However, instead of shining a negative light on what their rival does wrong, it needs to spin the message by emphasizing what, in comparison, they are doing right.
Competition is healthy and ferments emotion. A company that positions itself as the scrappy underdog can rally both interest and support. A little salty talk builds drama and engagement. It also forces all contenders to step their game up once that gauntlet has been thrown.