Advertising for the Competition

Written by Neal Sandin


A strong brand is unique because a brand is a specific promise to a specific audience.  The promise effectively delineates the brand’s market.  If the people behind the brand do not know what they are promising, or to whom they should be delivering, then the brand is likely weak, diluted, confused, or all of the above.  The competition then is able to enter, taking market share and revenues.  Importantly, the competition only becomes a problem if first the brand is not clearly defined and communicated.

The temptation to go after the competition exists because, after all, they appear to be taking your customers and potential revenue.  But the reason behind the competition’s strength actually stems from not delivering on the brand’s promise – not communicating this promise effectively to both customers and employees or simply not knowing what the brand’s promise is.   The unfortunate fact is that if one starts worrying about the competition, one will actually start advertising for the competition.


A couple of years ago, Ford fell into this trap through a series of commercials comparing itself to the Lexus (link).  What this campaign actually communicated is that Lexus is a very good car company, one that Ford is struggling to beat.  Ford actually promoted not its own automobiles, but the competition’s by making Lexus the benchmark.  Ford created room in their customer’s mind for its competition, free of charge.  Ford has since moved to purely advertising itself with it’s “And is Better” Campaign (link).


Attacking competition is a risky strategy in that it pulls attention away from one’s own company.  It splits the customer’s attention, causing confusion on what product or service to purchase.  It is the exact opposite of what advertising and promotion is supposed to do.  Advertising and promotion is supposed to focus attention on what the brand itself offers and the value it brings.


Therefore, instead of worrying about the competition, perhaps a company’s time would be better served by looking at how the brand’s promise is not being fulfilled, understood, or communicated.   This process might require research, consulting, or even soul searching – as perhaps the allure of profit has overshadowed everything else.  A promise may delineate a market, but communicating and delivering on that promise to the benefit of the customer maintains and grows that market, leaving little room for the competition.