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Advertising War Continues

When our economy is saturated by an overwhelming amount of choices, every industry inevitably becomes more competitive. Being brought up in such an environment, the advertising world soon looked like a battlefield to me. Until these days, all the status and beauties and benefits we have been trying to sell people are just the facade of myriad brand rivalries. Years after years, each brand has its own circles of competitions and competitors, some fight a more overt game than others.

Ready, Set... Fire?

When falls into the same category, brands constantly confront one another for the majority of market share and update their products to outperform the current ones available (Gerrath 2016). This natural reflex informed the competitive nature within each product category, hence, brand rivalry. Advertisers often encourage this form of communication called ‘advertising wars’ where combative advertising occurs (Phillips-Melancon & Dalakas 2014).

Principally in a mature market filled with competing brands, advertising owns the power to shift consumers from one brand to another without affecting the aggregate demand. Combative advertising is an iteration of claims exchanged between brands to fight for more consumer identification and market power (Chen, Joshi & Zhang 2009). These advertisements usually come with a provocative tone of voice or a humor appeal depicting a dilemma faced by consumers of competitors’ brands (Yucel-Aybat & Kramer 2017).

Whilst the game is obviously fun from consumers’ point of view, it takes a lot of considerations from the advertisers perspective before emerging on such a war. There are definitely some promising occasions to start a fight. For example, when a brand finds out and targets a consumers’ dissatisfaction, or there are times when an underdog can gain from putting themselves against a more famous establishment. All in all, the decision is beyond mere advertisements, joining the war is a preparation of budget, calculation of risk and a long-term commitment to a tone of voice, brand value and public image (Bleibaum et al. 2018).

High Risk, What Reward?

Where a brand maintains a strong relationship with its consumer base, their loyalty would form sturdy brand identification. This means that consumers would go as far as integrating the brand into their own identity, gathering a like-minded passionate community and defending their brand at all cost (Phillips-Melancon & Dalakas 2014). This phenomenon is most visible among high-profile brands such as Apple.

Consumer side-taking comes in several ways. From the accumulation of trust for their brand, consumers would stick to it regardless, they possess a strong belief in their brand’s capabilities and might even argue against negative information towards their choice. In a way, this is a self-affirmation mechanism (Gerrath 2016). Today’s social media enhances this process even further. Through instant interaction, brands can talk directly to consumers and engage them in creations of user-generated content against rivals in defense of the brand (Bleibaum et al. 2018).

Despite all that, like pretty much everything, there are two sides to this matter. Scholars constantly advise brands to avoid a public argument for the negative points seem overwhelming throughout most research (Berendt, Uhricha & Thompson 2018). When a brand is taken for a conflicting ride with its competitors, it is easy for them to lose track of their own accent and selling points (Gerrath 2016). A war is also a burden on budget because it is a trump sum of not only standard advertising cost but also funding for research on competition, possible lawsuits and price wars (Bleibaum et al. 2018). Conflicts on the face of the public put strains on industry relationships, thus, put a stop to future collaboration.

The public also suffered from a negative side effect called schadenfreude (Phillips-Melancon & Dalakas 2014). It happens when a highly identified consumer experiences joy at the expense of a rival brand’s failure. It is not too serious on the surface but if taken further, schadenfreude is a moral debate for it concerns the hostile and shaming behaviour between consumer groups, evoked by the choice of advertisers.

After all, in an advertising war, whether brands can ride off the success of each other remains a circumstantial question.

The Great ‘Advertising’ War

It is a risky but favourable move throughout the advertising history (Phillips-Melancon & Dalakas 2014).. Within every design is a suggestive comparison, some brands go as far as explicitly naming a competitor while some keep a lower profile with an implied superiority through language (Bleibaum et al. 2018).

The most famous name for the case has to mention Apple with its many rivals. The ‘Mac versus PC’ fight has been well-documented from day one. Started in early 2000s, Apple launched the ‘Get a Mac’ campaign which ran for four years with 66-advertisement series (The Drum 2016). This is a direct attack at Microsoft by impersonating a cool Mac next to an outdated PC. In a few years, Microsoft responded with the ‘I’m a PC’ campaign featuring a diversified crowd using Windows as an effort to remove the stuffy office worker image given by Apple. From that point on it has just been a series of back and forth sarcasm to downplay one another. The war has not seen a stopping sign ever since (Eadicicco 2019).

‘Get a Mac’ Campaign (Reproduced from Dormehl 2019)
Samsung’s Campaign (Reproduced from Smith 2017)

Other than a computer, Apple also owns the iPhone to compete against Samsung. However, this advertising war seems to be a one-way street and Samsung has been walking alone. Many advertisements have been made by Samsung to get Apple attention but not much has been answered (Smith 2017). Instead, Apple focuses on the legal aspect of the issue. After seven years in court, Apple finally won the case, making Samsung pay for copying patented features on the smartphone (Morrison 2018).

In the last century, another legendary rivalry has to mention Pepsi and Coke (Bhasin 2011). Varying from prints, hijacking sport events to bringing their drinks to space with astronauts, these two are unstoppable (Bold 2014).

Print Advertisements from Pepsi and Coke (Reproduced from Bhasin 2020)

Advertising wars came in all shapes, sizes and forms, like the way BMW and Audi played theirs from billboards to the sky.

Billboard War by Audi and BMW (Reproduced from BMedia 2015)

And during this day and age, I cannot go without mentioning an application of augmented reality technology in the ‘Burn That Ad’ Campaign by Burger King. Despite its competitors having higher advertising coverage, it did not matter when Burger King invited people to burn all of them in exchange for a free whopper. This led to a sharp increase in app downloading and in-app order (WARC Creative 2020).

‘Burn That Ad’ Campaign (Reproduced from The Drum 2019)

It’s Not New Around Here

Unsurprisingly, a long-term tradition in the advertising industry can also be found quite often in a young market like Vietnam (Hai An 2018). The most notable rival campaigns in recent years honored Milo and Ovaltine.

Billboard war between Milo (left) and Ovaltine (right) (Reproduced from Bao Bao 2018)

While Milo chose the slogan ‘Champion made from Milo’, then Ovaltine with the opposite meaning ‘No need champion, just do what you like’, supported by a visual presentation of a mother pointing to the ‘opponent’ (Nguyen 2018). As part of their integrated campaign, Ovaltine took the war online and off using Milo's main color, green, and attacked them symbolically.

Ovaltine’s online ad series (Reproduced from Nguyen 2018)

Everytime green was used, it carried a negative connotation and children appeared trying ‘too hard’. For years, Milo has built its brand around the champion image. As a standalone piece, the advertisement was harmless. However, when put next to Ovaltine’s message ‘the title is unimportant, the most important thing is the children’s happiness’, Milo suddenly became a reinforcement of achievement obsession, popular among generations of Vietnamese parents (Bao Bao 2018).

These were two buzzworthy campaigns. Soon after the photo was shared, many comments were made. Many parents turned to Ovaltine’s point of view to try and solve the problem of achievement obsession in schools lately (Nguyen 2018).

Ovaltine posters outside of schools (Reproduced from Bao Bao 2018)

A Global Game

Advertising war, combative advertising and brand rivalries is a global game and advertisers are all addicted. This phenomenon has a lot of power to influence consumer behavior for the goods and the bads. Such action also comes at a risk for the brand's budget, value and image in the public eyes before guaranteeing any rewards. With so many strings attached, it is recommended that advertisers take more than a moment to consider their options.


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