Pop icons and bands of the same generation are always compared to each other and very often set up against each other. Remember the epic battle for the number one spot between Oasis and Blur in the 90s, the Prince – Madonna – Michael Jackson tug-of-war in the 80s, the rivalry between Elton John, Freddie Mercury and Rod Stewart in the 70s, all the way back to The Beatles vs The Stones in the 60s? The media and the public can’t help but blow up differences between celebrities and portray them as antagonists, so it seems. It’s an inevitable societal force of all times to look for oppositions at the top, apparently.
Today is not different. Who do you prefer: Miley or Taylor? La Gaga or La Perry? What’s your favorite couple: Kim & Kanye or Beyoncé & Jay-Z? The list of direct comparisons is endless.
However, the ‘strategic’ question raised to the music scene is: what to do about this often very ‘forced’ and virtual rivalry that exists in the tabloids and on the Internet, hence in people’s minds, but not necessarily in real life?
What typically happens first? The antagonists deny the rivalry and say they’re best friends, they respect each other’s work and claim to look forward to the next party or award show to meet up. But somehow, the nasty words linger and sooner or later one of the two celebs cracks and takes one step too many. The fierce competitiveness between the 70s superstars Elton John and Rod Stewart as well-documented in Rod’s book, Rod Stewart: The Autobiography, gives an idea of what can happen when it gets a little messier.
Back in the 70s, Rod once had massive balloons in an arena when touring, to mark the fact he was having his concerts there. Next, Elton hired a sniper to shoot them down. Then there was the time when Rod put up a huge banner for his “Blondes Have More Fun tour” and Elton put a banner on a building across the street that said, “But Brunettes Make More Money”. This ongoing friend-or-foe feud made them more popular at the time, with journalists going wild over it.
So, if you get caught up in such a rivalry one-to-one feud, join the battle and poke fun at each other. Don’t bite or bark, don’t say nasty things, people don’t dig that, just make a good joke and add some friendly fuel to the fire.
Hot tweetaway: What brands can learn from the friend-or-foe feud between @rodstewart & @eltonjohndotcom insit.es/1sLMFal by @hakimzemni via @coolbrands
Here’s a more recent case: when Kanye West dissed Justin Timberlake’s new 2013 single Suit&Tie during a London concert, Justin replied by changing the lyrics of the Suit&Tie song when performing it live in front of millions of viewers on Saturday Night Live singing ‘My hit’s so sick, got rappers acting dramatic’.
Just that one sentence again entailed a tsunami of media attention, speculations and discussions, sparking yet a new wave of rivalry between the two icons. Result: even more exposure for both. Well done, T’lake and Kanye!
Check out how TMZ reported about the (non-)case.
So, what can Brands learn from Bands?
For a brand, the rival is the direct competitor: the ‘other’ brand whom you always refer to in internal meetings but never in external campaigns. The challenger, whose every step you follow in order to keep up or stay ahead. Just like in celeb land, there’s a lot of more often real than fake rivalry in brand land: XBox vs PlayStation around the turn of the century, Macintosh vs Microsoft in the 90s, Coke vs Pepsi in the 80s and Samsung smartphones against Apple’s iPhone today. Actually, if you think about it: the essence of launching a brand is often challenging another. In a competitive space like today’s marketplace, it seems brands exist not only by defining themselves but also by not being the ‘other’.
Hot tweetaway: The essence of launching a brand is challenging another insit.es/1sLMFal by @hakimzemni via @coolbrands #bandsnbrands
Business press and journalists also go on and on about these rivalries and just like in the world of celebrities, they keep pushing for a head-on competition between two polarizing brands.
Fact is, brands are very reluctant to actually say anything about the direct competition. How come? Well, some 50-odd years ago, a wise marketing professor said: never mention the name of your competitor in your pitch, because that is how you prove their dominance and give them free exposure. And although that wise man was wise indeed at the time, in today’s reality with today’s demanding and over-informed consumer, it may sometimes be advisable to do the exact opposite. Especially if you’re the new kid/brand on the block or when a huge referential brand is already present in your market, whom you will evidently be compared to by potential users. Consumers today know why brands exist and want to know the exact added value compared to the direct competitor. So how to do this effectively?
Hot tweetaway: How @Pepsi & @Samsung poked fun at their competition insit.es/1sLMFal by @HakimZemni via @CoolBrands #bandsnbrands
Take Pepsi and Coke. Both offer similar products and both have huge fan bases that stand dedicated behind their products, they have a long-standing history of fierce competition in the soda business. In 1996 fans got a taste of that competition first hand when a Pepsi commercial aired. In this commercial the Coca-Cola delivery man, faced with the choice between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, chose Pepsi. This effectively goes against the product he worked for on a day-to-day basis.
Here’s another great and more recent example from Samsung. In July 2014, it took yet another of many shots at eternal rival Apple, in a new one-minute advertisement for its Galaxy S5. In the ad Samsung refers to iPhone users as ‘wall huggers’, suggesting they’re constantly tethered to an outlet to keep their handset charged.
Let’s be honest, this is not ridiculing nor mocking Apple users nor Coke employees, it’s poking funnily at a very recognizable situation and surfing the consumer need for comparison without actually mentioning the words Apple or Coke. Both ads are actually successful and likeable, simply because of that fun factor.
So if you are active in a market where comparison is key and the day-to-day reflex of users, don’t hesitate and poke gentle and well-balanced fun at the users of the competition.