Insights - Brand & Marketing

Is Spoofing Your Competitor a Good Idea?

The recent Cred-Magic Pin controversy has many brands asking this question

Should you spoof competition

Nothing like a spoof to fire-up communication gurus on either side of the fence. The recent Magic Pin spoof of the Cred ad, was widely covered and hotly debated – much to the delight of both brands we are sure.

The naysayers pointed to lack of originality and shallow strategy, while others claimed that all was fair in love and customer acquisition.

The controversy highlighted a question that we get asked a lot.

Is spoofing or calling out your competitors a sound communication strategy for a brand?

The answer to that question, sadly, is that it depends.

Spoof is the Secret of my Spurt

Spoofs work well as quick awareness generators. Brands with low awareness benefit by piggybacking off a bigger brand. They can quickly drive up recall, if a viral loop of reactions and sharing is created.

Take a look at the Search trends for Magic Pin, from the 15th to the 18th of April, straight after they released the ad. They seem to have benefited from higher awareness, which probably resulted in increased installs.

Results Magic Pin ad
This Google Trends graph indicates that searches for Magic Pin soared after they released the spoof

To the people comparing the quality and production values of the two ads, we respectfully say that you are completely missing the point. The Cred ad, featuring Rahul Dravid, was a brand-building exercise to establish scale, stature and therefore trust. (Launching via a tweet from Virat Kohli was the jammy on the cake).

People comparing the Cred and Magic Pin ads are missing the point

The Magic Pin spoof was a growth hack. It got them attention, possibly installs, but now the big task ahead of them is how to convert or retain that interest.

A Long History of Ad-Butting

Advertising history is replete with examples of brands calling out or spoofing competitors. From the Cola wars to Burger King vs McDonalds and Pantene vs Dove, there are hundreds of good and not-so-good ads that took jabs at competitors.

coke vs pepsi
Pepsi and Coke have taken digs at each other for decades

Perhaps the most sustained competitor-based ad strategy was executed by Apple. This started with the 1984 Superbowl campaign and was directed against IBM. In fact, Steve Jobs read out the following lines in his 1983 keynote address, before showing a preview of the ad.

“It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money”

Steve Jobs, Apple keynote address, 1983

The more direct Get a Mac campaign, spoofing “dorky” PCs, ran for three years, from 2003 to 2006 and its role on the uptick in Mac sales is well-documented.

mac-vs-pc ads
The Get-a-Mac campaigns personified PCs as stuffy and Macs as cool

Apple itself has been on the receiving end of spoofs like this one from Samsung, making fun of people who queue up to buy iPhones.

Closer to home, German company Sebamed caused a lather when they compared the PH of competitor Unilever’s Lux soap to Rin detergent.

sebamed ad
The Sebamed ad in 2020, compared the pH of Lux to detergent bar Rin.

If this kind of guerilla advertising is such common practice and delivers quick results, should you be factoring it into your communication plan? Take a minute to answer these questions first.

  • Is your idea funny and irreverent or is it childish and malicious? There is a fine line between the two. Apple followed its wildly successful 1984 Superbowl ad with this disastrous Lemmings spot the following year. The cardinal error? Insulting prospective customers. The worst thing you can do is get carried away with your own cleverness.
This Apple ad aired in 1985 at the Superbowl and caused a massive backlash
  • Are you prepared for backlash? When you take a controversial stand, you must be prepared to take criticism.
  • What is your strategy once you create a growth spurt? Are your product and teams geared to convert it into long-term advantage?
  • Most importantly, is your brand and offering well-defined? Once you have people’s attention, what is the proposition you will put to them? Is this a continuation of the message in the spoof or is it completely disjointed?

Also, do be prepared to be spoofed in return. Salesforce went head-to-head with enterprise software giants in the early 2000s with its “The End of Software”campaign. This included staging mock-protests outside software company, Siebel’s headquarters. Cut to 2018, when SaaS company Freshworks crashed the mega Salesforce annual event, Dreamforce, with a blimp and marching band that shouted #failsforce.

In 2018, Freshworks launched a campaign targeting Salesforce, in a manner reminiscent of the latter’s tactics against Oracle

Finally, remember that in the long-term your brand must be built on its own strengths. Calling out competitors can bring you traffic and awareness, but not stickiness or long-term value. Shashank Mehta, founder of food brand, The Whole Truth, started by launching an aggressive campaign against big food companies, but admits that they have now moved on to focusing on the positive aspects of their own brand.

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