Most big businesses don’t name their competition in their messages, neither do they compare themselves.

But a small business can ditch out a blog post comparing two heavy weights in the industry could be tactical. It is difficult for the leading company to attack the small business publicly without seeming weak. Even acknowledging the small-guy can legitimize them as a potential threat in the eyes industry-watchers.

There are instances where a small business gets a lot of press and legit PR consistently makes sure they’re making (seemingly) natural references to the giants in their industry. Over time, staying consistent in their messaging resulted in an association being drawn between the scrappy startup and the all conquering brand in the space. End result, rightly or wrongly, that scrappy startup *appeared* to be punching way above its weight (in both the eyes of the public and Google) and as a result the VC dollars came flooding in.

If you’re smart about it, plan, and get your spokesmen/women staying on message, then I’ve seen this strategy work extremely well.

Note that in some countries “comparative advertising” can get you in a lot of trouble. If you can’t prove your claims, it can open yourself up to lawsuits.


Comparative advertising is a cheap shot approach. To however achieve this, you can utilize De-positioning, a deadly tool in advertising. Examples are:

Avis: We Try Harder
De-positioning: whoever you think is the number 1 (Hertz)

7-Up is the Un-Cola
De-positioning: colas (specifically Coke and Pepsi)

You don’t have to name the competitor you want to de-position, it’s stronger if you de-position them or the entire class in the mind of the consumer.

Let’s say I might prefer Coke and you might prefer Pepsi. So the UN-COLA de-positions Coke in my mind, and Pepsi in yours… double bonus. 

I never recommend specifically identifying a named competitor…

NB: Let’s say your brand is Blue Widgets. And there is 10,000 searches a month for Blue Widgets vs Competitor (i.e. Red Widgets). If you knew you had the superior product, you wouldn’t put anything on your site that did a side-by-side comparison?

So, a side-by-side comparison is often a great idea, and ADDS to the de-positioning, but doesn’t REPLACE it. It has to be factual and look like a fair comparison and BE a fair comparison. But side-by-side comparisons are only a supporting tactic if you already have the superior product, you should express that in your positioning platform.

Part of crafting a winning positioning platform is that is has to be provable, so a side-by-side can support what you claim. But again, the strongest positionings are those that position IN your favor and de-position AWAY from competitors and competition simultaneously.

In advertising, the market leader NEVER acknowledges the second place getter. But the second place getter, if happy to acknowledge that its not a leader tends to go pretty hard on the winner. Pepsi ran a campaign targeting coke zero about flavour – on a scale of zero to max…. Pepsi hasn’t been shy about taking on Coke. And when that Big mac copyright thing happened, Burger King and Wendies went nuts using McDonald’s branding to position themselves as “better”. It’s the way of the traditional marketer.

Leave a Reply