It’s a throwback to the cola wars, but what this contest lacks in celebrity-delivered punchlines, it makes up for with hashtagged social media campaigns. So what do you do if your biggest rival start-up launches an ad campaign to cut you off at the knees? Take control of your story, according to Storywallahs founder Ameen Haque. While he wasn’t directly addressing ad wars at his recent session at BHive on the importance of storytelling for start-ups, the former vice-president at O&M laid out some interesting pearls of wisdom that could apply. When your competitors launch a similar attack, he explained, they’re trying to reposition you by subverting what you stand for through the straw men they erect.
But as another—albeit fictional—“Mad Man”, Don Draper, suggested: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”. To use Haque’s example, Apple’s Macintosh launch ad from 1984, which cast market leaders IBM as the monopolising “Big Brother” was a classic example of taking control; Apple used their position as the greenhorn David versus a hulking PC Goliath to their advantage.
However, the crushing rejoinder can sometimes go awfully wrong. Everyone knows Coca Cola as the brand that got it right with its iconic ad campaigns, which even altered popular festive culture irrevocably when they kitted out Santa Claus in their colours (Does anyone even remember a green Father Christmas anymore?) However, thirty years ago, Coke saw its market share erode, courtesy Pepsi’s concerted ad assault—the famed taste test.
Instead of taking control of the narrative, a desperate Coke fought back with a rather knee-jerk move, taking the battle to a frontier that should have been left alone: their product. They released a different-tasting product, “New Coke”, which tanked astronomically in the market. All the loyalty that their classic Coke flavour had won them (along with the millions spent on product development and marketing) went down the tube. It would take Coca Cola another decade before they regained firm control of the market, forcing PepsiCo to diversify into the snacks sector.