Why Not? Bad Mouthing Your Competitors…

By Earl Pilkington

This story is based on an actual real world experience I had a couple of years ago that I was reminded of recently when another client asked me to do eerily similar...

I’m a copywriter. I am called on by the sales staff to have a ‘talk’ with clients because they want to do something that seems a bit… odd! Or left of centre… This is one such cautionary tale. The client’s names and business names have been removed to protect them.

A client wanted their next radio commercial to be an ‘attack’ campaign, saying something along the lines of "You are an idiot if you go to our competitors, they can't do the same job we do" and "we may be more expensive, but we do a better job." (I have to say that this is a very, very sanitized version of what they wanted to specifically say.)

On the surface, you may think that that seems to be an okay thing to want to do in a radio commercial -- if not exactly in those words, then something similar. But the message itself… ‘sure we could do that…’ But I argued the following points with the client about why they really shouldn't criticize his competitors and, in turn… their customers.

Any customer of ours (i.e.: our listeners) will more than likely hear those comments and interpret them as being something unprofessional for one business to say about any another business.

They might also interpret that criticism as a way of insulting them and their own judgment in selecting the competitor in the first place.

So not only could this client be seen as being unprofessional, but they were also planning to call any prospective clients, an ‘idiot’ for using the other company in town.

Then, and I really emphasised this with the client… ‘You are placing a very, very big and hard ask to try to make any person to then come back and try your business out.’

They would also have to prove that fact to any clients, (especially when making any statement like this in any type of advertising or media), and if they didn’t live up to their claims in any way shape or form, then they were painting a huge target on their back that their competitors were going to use against them.

It was something that I just wasn't prepared to do when writing a commercial for them.

As I pointed out to the client, who did eventually see what I was talking about, that: “when you attack others, you run the risk of undermining your credibility with not only your current, but also any future prospective clients.”

"Be quick to praise when it’s deserved, and slow to criticize when you see any faults." This is something that my grandmother used to say, and I really think that in advertising any product, service or staff member, then this is what you should do.

Or to put it another way, as fashion designer Karl Otto Lagerfeld said, "I’ve always lived by the motto ‘never compete, never compare’". Lagerfeld, the creative genius behind brands such as Chanel and Fendi, as well as his own brand, Karl Lagerfeld knows what he is talking about when it comes to marketing.

Never compete, never compare -- now that is an absolutely fantastic motto, and one that the store ended up using instead of their ‘attack’ campaign.

The ad itself was successful and did drive more business in-store, and the ‘We never compete, we never compare… we let the results and our customers speak for themselves”, which we followed up with vox-pops of clients.

I told this warning tale to the new client, and guess what? They did not proceed with the ‘attack’ script. Instead went with something similar to my example. It is early days yet, so we will see if they have the same result as the other client.

 ♦

Earl Pilkington works as a copywriter for West Coast Radio in Western Australia. He has mentored on-air talent, audio producers, journos and others inside and outside the industry, including TV, newspaper, voice talent and students. Earl welcomes your correspondence at theboss@shedloadofgeeks.com.

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