In this guest post, Andrew Hardeman (main photo), Strategy Director at Frontier Media, explores why peacocking in brand land is ruffling a few feathers.
Big brands are battling it out in a bid to get your attention. From product-jacking to mud-flinging there’s no limit to how far major players will go to win market share.
Pepsi has reignited its taste challenge with Coke through Pepsi Max. Grill’d is taking on the colonels KFC. Hungry Jacks continued its rivalry with McDonald’s creating the Big Jack. Facebook is even going up against Apple and publicly slamming its upcoming privacy update. This all in the last half of 2020.
Brand wars are back in vogue.
And why wouldn’t they be? In an increasingly cluttered and competitive market for consumer attention, brand wars provide a new form of entertainment and way to connect.
Brand wars, however, are more than marketing puffery or attention trickery. They are often strategically led business endeavours to create, reinforce or re-frame a brand position or distinctiveness.
By using an established position of another brand in the category as the pivot point, brands can create a stronger position for themselves.
Much like a visual cue; a person of normal height standing next to an incredibly tall person will seem smaller than when they are standing by themselves. Using another brand as a pivot point can provide a more distinct position for the other.
So, when should a brand go to war?
Brand-wars are most successful when they exist in an established category with a brand people already have a clear perception of. More importantly though, brands should go to war when they have a strategic reason for it. Here are a few that make the most sense.
- Launching into new category
The most relevant case for creating a brand war. Brands can create a position quickly in a new market by using an established competitor’s position. Grill’d has successfully launched its new chicken product range and its health credentials by positioning it directly against the less healthy KFC option.
- Steal share/Stimulate trial from leader
The classic Coke vs Pepsi taste test was created purely to get Pepsi onto the consideration set against Coke. Even if Coke was preferred, people had given Pepsi a go. With this strategy, it is less about winning and more about becoming part of the conversation with a market leader. The other classic Hertz Vs Avis battle sits in this space where Avis embraced its second in market position by claiming “we try harder”.
- Maintain top-of-mind awareness
Most common in mature categories with a lot of competition, brands can take swipes at other brands to drive awareness and conversation. The automotive industry is littered with out-of-home executions positioning one brand better or higher than the rest!
Another example is Vegemite. What better way to reinforce Vegemite’s Australian icon status than by tapping into the cultural importance of the Ashes and supporting our team battling against the English equivalent, Marmite?
While brand wars are a great strategic tool to position a brand in market, they do pose a risk given the number of variables out of a brands control.
When going to war, brands must know how competitors will behave and have the ability to be quick and agile if and when any response does occur. Hungry Jacks knew McDonald’s would file a lawsuit against the Big Jack burger. Having this knowledge allowed them to plan accordingly what they would do following it.
In summary, brand wars should be considered as a part of any marketers’ tool kit kicking off 2021. They aren’t for the faint-hearted or safe marketer. However, when executed successfully and with purpose, war certainly can be good for a brand.
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