When you do have a bad guy, however, it makes whatever you are promoting urgent. It can help to position your business by painting a clear picture of what (or who) you are not. Here are a few marketing examples where companies are pitching their products or services by identifying an enemy and attacking. In some cases the enemy is a real company, but in others it's just an idea. Either way, the technique is worth considering as you hone your own marketing messages to help your business succeed:
- Pick your enemy based on your strength. (Example: Verizon) The biggest benefit that Verizon has, as anyone who is a customer knows, is that their network tends to work in places where others don't. To focus on promoting that fact, they have spent millions on an ad campaign featuring their robust map hanging over a phone versus AT&T's patchwork map. The campaign was so successful in creating a perception about AT&T that they were forced to fight back with their own ad campaign. Ultimately, in a TV ad battle based on network strength, Verizon is exactly where they want to be. After all, who really cares about having the iPhone when you have no bars or reception?
- Focus on a consumer frustration. (Example: Ally Bank) One organization that has been brilliant about capitalizing on the prevailing negative perception Americans have of Wall Street and financial institutions because of the recession has been Ally Bank. Positioning itself as an "ally" (get it?) for you and your money, their tagline puts the ownership of the money back on you. Their advertising features memorable metaphors like the little girl who represents the new customer getting a real pony. When the little girl who is the current customer says "no fair" and asks why she didn't get the same, the sales guy replies "you didn't ask." Consumer frustration point: all those sweet deals are only available to new members and my bank (or any other organization) stops caring about me once I become a customer.
- Unite against a common enemy. (Example: Office Depot) When I say small company, chances are very slim that any of you would think about Office Depot. In fact, the chain has likely been responsible for more than a few small businesses closing. Yet the chain started as a small business, and still remains smaller than their largest competitor, Staples. So when they run an ad featuring small business people like the local barbershop ordering a sign for their business to compete against the bigger company next door ... it strikes a chord. It tells anyone watching who happens to associate with that same position of being the little guy fighting against the big guy that Office Depot has your back. And when you need new staplers, of course you're going to head to the company that is on your side as a small business. Unless of course you happen to own an office products store …
- Take an unpopular stand. (Example: Hummer) Owners of a Hummer don't care about you or what you think. At least, that's what their advertising wants you to believe. In a world where SUV has almost become a dirty word, Hummer is almost the unspeakable six-letter version. What climate-loving enlightened intellectual could even consider owning one? Yet in 2006 sales peaked at over 70,000 vehicles and during that time their messaging was decidedly villain-esque. It encouraged people to drive what they wanted to drive, proudly declared bigger was better and made their unpopular existence into a luxury statement of defiance. Recent news may be pointing to the demise of the Hummer (due to the military ceasing use of their vehicles), however the powerful lesson the brand illustrated was that sometimes being unpopular is the right call as long as you have enough individuals who believe in your point of view and will stand behind you.
- Save an industry. (Example; Southwest) When every airline almost simultaneously decided that charging people to check bags would be a great source of revenue, only one airline stood apart. That same airline, several years before, had been the only one that managed to eke out a profit in tough years for the airline industry. Today the motto "bags fly free" has become a rallying cry for Southwest as they manage to make every other domestic airline look like penny-pinching bureaucrats. Southwest is how flying should be, and they do a great job telling their story in a way that helps them to stand apart from their entire industry.