Hertz vs. Avis
Coke vs. Pepsi
Apple vs. Microsoft
That cute, spiky-haired Alltel dude vs. the Cingular, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile dorks
It doesn't matter how it started. I hear tell that back in the ‘50s some CEO sloshed a very dry martini on another CEO's wife during a benefit dinner. I'd like to think that in the bowels of some dark and smoke-filled Madison Avenue agency, someone yelled, "screw 'em" and pressed the little red button; effectively launching a pre-emptive strike against a nation of fanatical car rental dealerships. Either way, a line in the sand is drawn, and it's winner take all.
Or is it?
In this polarized land of everyone loves a winner, but roots for the underdog, a very strange thing happens when the Brand-X battle lines snap to attention -- both sides seem to prevail.
Call it the tag-along-effect or compare it to the Nascar driving technique of drafting, but when one company takes the offensive and attacks the value or benefits of their competitor's product, both companies get pulled into the mass media spotlight. And, if the competitor's product is not inherently flawed (and at the highest level it usually isn't) – ka-boom – free exposure, front-of-mind name recognition and a measurable sales spike.
Sure, the company that takes the strategic initiative will ultimately gain those few precious percentage points of market share, but at what cost? Allowing the other agency to easily engineer a defensive roll-over minutes campaign? Allowing the legions of the competitor's opposing cola army (the product fans) to initiate
a flanking viral or grassroots campaign? As a passionate nation of consumers and brand loyalists (Red vs. Blue anyone?), we love to take a stand, and we'll stand on the other team's throat to let them know it.
The fact is an advertising and marketing war is an end game and a war of attrition. The only loser will be the company that literally gives up, shuts down or is purchased for a cash/stock deal and the assumption of its debt. These "wars" are really an endless series of market share battles that can easily run the course of decades.
So dear client, before you start firing your Kalashnikovs up in the air with the rallying cry of "Give me market share or give me death!" listen to your agency professionals' advice. Cold war or cola war, taking that path commands a very high price. Trust us, we've pulled many a tour of duty and have the medals to prove it.
Gary LoBue Jr / Art Director / The Russo Group
* Divide and conquer