Sometimes I see an ad that makes me laugh out loud, this from American bank, First Bank certainly did, but probably not for the reasons they’d hoped. I laughed because the idea of any bank taking the piss out Google for their application of technology is downright hilarious. Doing so in the course of telling us that First Bank are releasing their banking app (this is 2014) shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness. But it did prompt me to reflect on the wisdom of a particular form of marketing – Comparative Advertising – AKA gaining attention by taking a swipe at others.
Rules of Engagement
The market for the hearts and minds of consumers could hardly be described as genteel, but in general, investing in advertising that directly compares you to others is reasonably rare. There are various reasons for this: it’s pretty risky to spend your own money in a way that raises awareness of your competitors; people can be put off by the seeming arrogance of the act itself; but mainly there are very few circumstances where a direct comparison is a good idea. There are some who identify opportunities where you can make direct pricing or feature comparisons, but even these are risky. To my mind there’s pretty much one single golden rule of comparative advertising – kick them when they’re down.
The Popularity Contest
Sadly, life is unfair. And business, like life, is a popularity contest. So if you’re engaging in comparative advertising pick a target less popular than you. Sure that’s not very nice, but as humans we have our prejudices and as long as you’re picking a target who is less popular than you, you’ll do ok. Please note that I’m not advocating anything that’s based on race, colour, sex, sexual preference,religion, creed or any other such factor. Quite rightly people get upset about such things. However businesses and professions are still a pretty soft target. So there’s opportunities aplenty if you follow the golden rule.
Example 1 – TransferWise
A great example of this is fintech company, TransferWise, their feisty ads play on the fact we hate banks, so a good kicking is ok:
This ad works on many levels: we hate banks; we hate banks because we suspect they’re ripping us off; actually they are ripping us off; I get to be clever and thrifty AND stick it to the banks. Awesome.
Example 2 – Apple
Another great example, albeit a bit less feisty but still playing the popularity angle, is Apple’s long running, I’m a Mac/I’m a PC campaign:
This is a bit of an oddity given that essentially it’s a grown up version of teasing the nerd – it’s the sort of thing we should dislike if we consider ourselves good people. Except that even though more people use Microsoft than Apple, we do so not very willingly, so people don’t really like Microsoft. So instead it comes across as the cool little guy taking on the uncool big guy. Easy to like.
So where does that leave banks and other perennially unpopular companies? You could to find a comparative examples of others still less popular than you – car salesmen; tax collectors; advertising people. The truth is that there are many companies who probably could take a swipe at Google and Glassholes, it’s just not right for a bank. Instead try something radical… Like providing a great product and service that makes people’s lives better.