When it comes to engaging with competitors, most brands take an adversarial approach – think of the age-old rivalry between Coke and Pepsi, or the memorable “Mac vs. PC” commercials. However, new research suggests that praising the competition can actually improve a brand’s image and profitability. For example, in one study, consumers who saw a tweet in which KitKat praised Twix were 34% more likely to buy a KitKat in the next two weeks. This effect is driven by consumers’ perception of a brand’s warmth: praising competitors makes brands more thoughtful, kind, and trustworthy, which ultimately makes consumers more likely to buy their products. Of course, this approach won’t work for all brands in all settings – but research suggests that praising the competition can significantly benefit brands, both in terms of consumer perceptions and sales (not to mention side benefits of adding a bit of positivity to a world plagued by conflict and negativity).
What is the best way for a brand to engage with its competitors? Many brands focus their marketing efforts exclusively on their own strengths rather than on competitor recognition – and when they speak publicly about competing brands, it’s usually to criticize them. Consider, for example, the “mac vs pc“TV commercials that pit a heavy, suit-wearing PC user against a younger, hoodie-wearing Mac user; the decades »Cola Warsbetween Pepsi and Coke; and today’s ongoing battles between light beers.
This approach is understandable, but it is not the only option. For example, PlayStation and Xbox openly congratulated Nintendo on the occasion of the launch of its new Switch gaming system, Oreo shared a playful message on Twitter suggesting KitKats were irresistible, and The New York Times even used a full page ad to encourage readers to consult other reliable sources of information. In a world where consumers are increasingly fed up divisive and vitriolic messages, it’s no surprise that consumers appreciate this kinder, more positive tone. But of course, the question remains: does praising your rivals harm your own profitability, or can brands take this approach and still beat the competition?
We conducted a series of 11 experiments with nearly 4,000 consumers to explore this question, and found that when a brand praised a competitor, consumers developed a more positive attitude towards the brand – and this change in attitude was reflected directly in the consumers’ willingness to buy the brand’s products.
In one study, we showed a group of consumers a (fictional) tweet in which KitKat praised Twix: “@twix, Competitor or not, congratulations on your 54 years in business! Even we can admit that the Twix are delicious. We also showed a focus group of consumers a tweet in which KitKat simply referred to its own products: “Start your day with a treat!” Eleven days later, we contacted all participants and asked them what types of candy they had purchased in the past 11 days. Those who had seen the tweet in which KitKat praised Twix were 34% more likely to have purchased a KitKat than those in the control group. Importantly, consumers were just as likely to have purchased a Twix regardless of the tweet they saw, suggesting that Twix did not benefit from KitKat’s praise in terms of sales.
We then replicated this study with brands in the food, ride-sharing, accessories, media, and technology industries, and consistently found that consumers showed greater interest in buying from brands that praised their competitors. . We further found that this effect was largely related to consumers’ perception of a brand’s warmth. When a brand praised its competitors, consumers reported feeling that the brand was warmer, meaning more thoughtful, kind and trustworthy. As a result, consumers engaged more with these brands on social media, clicked on more of their ads, reported more positive attitudes and a stronger sense of connection to these brands, and ultimately purchased more of their products. these brands.
Of course, this strategy will work better for some brands than others. For example, we tested the impact of praising a rival with for-profit and non-profit brands, and found that if both types of organizations were viewed more positively after sharing praise, for-profit brands benefited the most. This is likely due to the fact that, on average, for-profit brands are perceived as less hot than non-profit brands, consumers were therefore particularly surprised and therefore reacted more strongly to for-profit brands’ displays of warmth. Additionally, we found that this approach only worked if the brand was praising a rival – praising an unrelated brand had no effect. In one study, for example, we showed consumers a marketing campaign in which an eyewear company praised a hamburger brand. Since the recipient of the praise was not a competitor, the praise failed to improve the eyewear brand’s image or sales.
We also found that consumers who were most skeptical on advertising in general showed the greatest increase in positivity about a brand when it praised its competitors. This is likely because these consumers tend to have less positive baseline feelings towards brands, and so when they see a brand showing warmth by praising a competitor, it has a more substantial impact on their impression of the Mark.
Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and each organization will need to determine which approach will be most effective – and most authentic – for their unique brand and customers. But our research suggests that praising the competition can significantly benefit brands, both in terms of consumer perceptions and sales. Moreover, in a world increasingly cynical and conflict-ridden, it couldn’t hurt for brands to add some positivity to the mix.