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FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT: Why competition should (but doesn’t always) bring out the best in a brand

By Andrew Boulton

April 18, 2013 | 4 min read

Competition brings out the worst in me. At the age of eleven, engaged in a fiercely contested game of ‘Streetfighter 2’ I shamefully attempted to drown my friend in a bowl of Monster Munch. For the sake of the continued enjoyment of this blog let’s pretend he didn’t die.

But while competition may turn some people into lunatics, in the field of marketing it should (and I stress the word ‘should’) be a positive thing.

It’s quite rare for one particular brand to exist in a market state where they face no significant direct competition. I suppose Red Bull could be considered to be such a brand, as while other energy drinks are available their marketing impact is negligible in comparison to Red Bull’s (beautifully engineered) brand dominance.

But a scenario such as this is the exception to the rule. Think Pepsi vs Coke. Think McDonalds vs Burger King. Think the never ending wrangling between the top supermarkets, energy suppliers and banks.

And, in theory, competition should keep brands sharp. An inherent anxiousness about the activity of a rival brand should spur them on to continuously look forward, innovate, explore.

The insurance comparison site market was an invariably drab advertising sector. Ads for the various competing brands were almost indistinguishable from one another, each of them adopting the same lazy and uninspiring formula.

Whether you like them or not, the likes of ‘Compare the Market’ and ‘Go Compare’ have forced that particular sector into abandoning their usual efforts and thinking a little more differently. Admittedly the results throughout the industry haven’t been astounding as yet, but there have at least been signs of a willingness to evolve and an attempt at inventiveness.

But, for whatever reason, this reaction doesn’t always materialise. Despite it being a legendary brand rivalry in which Coca Cola dominates the cola market (although Pepsi’s multiple businesses generate more revenue) Pepsi’s advertising is largely seen as a brutal defeat of style over substances.

The Pepsi Max ‘dudes’ are largely unlikeable for a set of brand characters that are supposed to act as aspirational figures for the brand values. And the Pepsi football ads are so universally dreadful I often wonder whether the footballers themselves have conceived them.

Coca Cola on the other hand seemed to have comfortably inhabited their own sweet and surprisingly charming approach to advertising. The Christmas adverts have become ingrained in festive culture, the latest polar bear ads are heart-warming and even the Diet Coke hunk (that damned handsome rascal) has an affable and knowing humour to it.

Perhaps in this case, the competition has forced one brand into consciously carving out an advertising personality that is unmistakably distinct from their rivals – possibly at the expense of more endearing campaign ideas.

Maybe they should just settle the whole thing with a game of 'Streetfighter 2'? To the death, of course.


Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. Never play him at ‘Streetfighter 2’.


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