Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It’s not nice to call people names. (Copycat!)

Your new ad campaign is a masterpiece. The headlines are engaging and provocative. The visuals are hand-selected for a perfect fit. The call-to-action is different from anyone else’s, a strong offer guaranteed to get the phone ringing.

The campaign hits and, for the first few weeks, you’re basking in the glow of newfound results. Calls are coming in. Appointments are being made. New customers are noticing you for the first time. Someone else is noticing you too - your competitor. He thinks your campaign is pretty darn good. So, like any good morally ambiguous business owner, he decides to run a new campaign too. And, remarkably, it looks just like yours.

Perhaps you should be flattered. After all, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But, you’re probably not feeling so flattered if your phone isn’t ringing as much as it was before the copycat prowled his way into your marketing ideas. Perhaps it’s time to sharpen your claws and get ready for a good old fashioned catfight.

In the advertising world, these feline wars are more conservatively dubbed “comparative advertising.” Comparative advertising can be quite successful in battling copycats when used in certain ways.

  1. Hammer the one key selling point that makes you better than your competitor. Verizon has used this strategy very successfully in its battle against AT&T. Pick your best selling point, something your competitor cannot offer, and ask customers to compare.
  2. Invite consumers to try you both. The Pepsi Challenge is a classic example of this strategy. Whether consumers really preferred Coke or Pepsi, we’ll never know. We do know that consumers remembered Pepsi best because they had the confidence to challenge us. If you know your product is better, invite consumers to compare it.
  3. Poke fun at your competition. Apple is a master of poking fun at its PC competitors. The key to this strategy is to poke fun in a good natured way. Getting nasty can easily backfire on you.

You were creative enough to get one up on the competition before so you’ve obviously got what it takes to beat him again. After all, there’s more than one way to skin a copycat.