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When does being brash in your marketing stunt work?

Nobody likes a jerk – unless you are a challenger brand with a kickass marketing stunt.

Think back to the marketing stunts Samsung pulled riding on Apple’s products. Or Pepsi versus Coke. And most recently Burger King versus McDonald’s. What do all these brands have in common? Well, the former in the list were all at one point or another the biggest bullies to their rivals, the latters in the list.

Unless you are living in under a rock, you probably have heard of the massively succesful marketing stunt Burger King pulled. Extending a seemingly innocent olive branch, BK asked its golden arched rivals to create a burger with them for Peace Day. McDonald’s however, declined the gesture gracefully on Facebook adding that the idea was “an inspiration for good cause.”

While the offer to make a mega burger is not exactly the most hateful proposal by Burger King, one can see why McD’s decided to play it safe. BK has after all taken a jibe at McD’s whenever an opportunity presented itself.

(Read also: LOOK Burger King gets cheeky as McDonald’s appoints new CEO ; BK hits McDonald’s with snarky burger ad)

Moreover, as noted by McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook, had the brand simply wanted to create a burger, a phone call would have sufficed. It really did not have to take out full page ads on several newspapers.

Consumers nevertheless ate the publicity stunt up with many showing love for BK and hostility towards McD’s. Data from Amobee suggested that while overall volume of tweets around McDonald’s increased by 78%, the volume of positive Tweets only increased by 5%.

Big brands – simply sitting ducks?

This then begs the question, when challenged by competitors, are the more established brands simply sitting ducks?

Preetham Venkky, head of digital strategy & business of KRDS was of the view that when you are a market leader in your field you can’t help but attract such jibes. People are mostly always rooting for the underdog and if the roles were reversed, the stunt wouldn’t work and the bigger brand would come across as a bully.

One classic example of brand bashing done brilliantly is by Samsung versus apple.

Moving on from its epic “It doesn’t take a genius” ads, late last year, Samsung also took a similar swipe (pun intended) at Apple on the screen size of the new iPhone.

On a YouTube ad, Samsung staged two characters to look like apple employees and said “It took us [Apple] two years, two years to do something ground breaking. [Create] A bigger screen.”

The campaign was at that point met with silence from Apple’s part.

Had the mega brands such as McD’s or Apple initiated the stunts, then it would be acknowledging that the challenger brand was a threat or of an equal playing field,explained Venkky.

Tuomas Peltoniemi, president of TBWA’s Digital Arts Network (DAN) also added that challenger brands always have the right to be a bit more aggressive than brand leaders in their marketing. This is because many challenger brands work with smaller marketing budgets than brand leaders. Hence creativity and in some cases aggression is needed.

“But whether or not you are a challenger or established brand the most important factor is really what the brand stands for. While some brands can be a bit more cheeky, while others will have to rely on a more conservative approach,” said Peltoniemi.

Calculated steps

One way for the more established brand to counter this move would be to invest in product and let the product speak for itself. Venkky added in the case of McDonald’s, the fast food chain could for example create an “ultimate burger” and walk the walk rather than talk the talk. Consumers after all respect a brand for what they do and not just what they say.

Peltoniemi, however, added that playing along with the stunt could have actually worked in the favour of McD’s in such a situation.

“In this particular case, you have to keep in mind that Burger King’s proposal was to come together for the Peace Day. This was a good creative idea that could have turned into something fantastic for both brands,” said Peltoniemi. He added that if attacks such as the one BK pulled on McD’s fits within what your brand stands for, play along. If it doesn’t, then you can’t.

What is most vital in deciding your step would be the monitoring of online conversations to see the impact of the attack on the sentiment around your brand. Only then can you make a decision on how to act.

“Counter attacks have a huge risk of turning against your brand, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you come up with a brilliant creative idea and it’s within what your brand stands for,” said Peltoniemi

Kimberley Olsen, business lead, Social at Mirum also added that fans love the transparency of an open minded brand and given McD’s innovative side when it comes to creating food products, this could have been an opportunity to turn the topic by bringing their products to the challenge.

“The challenge was brought forward in the form of a proposed collaboration. Brands should look at situations like this as an opportunity to own the social conversations and steer it in favour of their brand. This can be done by initiating a crowdsource for more ideas and highlighting thoughts from their very own customers,” said Olsen.

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