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Exploring The Art Of Imitation And ‘Banter’ In PR

In the world of PR and marketing, there’s a very fine line between being clever, and being disrespectful when it comes to talking about other brands. I remember a time when I thought it was totally abhorrent to talk about, or moreover talk down another brand. I’ll never forget being totally shocked to see adverts on the TV that would unapologetically compare prices (supermarkets were the main culprits) and basically say ‘don’t visit them, they’re a bit shit – visit us instead!’.

But now, for better or for worse, that kind of attitude is commonplace and I for one – being a little older now and a little more clued up about effective marketing – am (for the most part) completely here for it.

Because nowadays, any successful business should expect a fair dose of healthy competition, and though there are obvious industry leaders, monopolies are really uncommon now and big brands have to pit against one and other in order to succeed. And though competition comes in all shapes and forms, the clever marketers know that the best way to achieve a quick-win is to promote your brand while basically stealing customers from your competition.

I mean, in a matter-of-fact sort of way, that’s largely what business is anyway, isn’t it?

But, that being said. Where do we draw the line? Outrightly ‘dissing’ other companies just isn’t fashionable anymore. You need to be clever about it in order to effectively banter and mimic your competition. An element of intellect is needed for sure. Marketers need to promote their business, trump the competition but all the while maintain a classy reputation. Because let’s face it, who wants to engage with a brand infamous for ‘slagging’ off every man and his dog without remorse? Nobody. And this is why those in marketing, who pull off the effective campaigns, are some of the greatest minds that this country has to offer. It takes immense skill to be an effective marketer, especially in a saturated market.

Though it’s difficult, it can be done. And I’ve seen countless great examples of brands in the past year alone who’ve proved that piggybacking off other brands, if done right, is an effective and foolproof marketing tactic. Here are a few of my favourite examples, and why they’re brilliant. I’m exploring the art of bantering with other brands, what happens when it’s not done right and what happens when exactly, brands rally together instead.

Burger King – ‘Explains A Lot’ (The Good)

Proving that a campaign need not be complex to be successful is Burger King. This iconic 3 lettered tweet is now one of the most impressionable on Twitter, holding the title of ‘most liked branded tweet ever’.

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Who knew that a 3-word post would be the one with most impressions of… All time? Not I for one, but I applaud it for being so.

And if you want to know why, well – it’s because the tweet was funny,  bold and there was no element of ‘beating around the bush here at all’. In an obvious playful but competitive tone, the quote tweet – which originally could have been a great example of influencer marketing for McDonald’s (because love him or hate him, Kanye West is one of the world’s most influential people to the younger generation nowadays) ended up being a goldmine for Burger King instead.

The tweet, which played on the questionable persona of Kanye West, while simultaneously lightheartedly slandering Burger King’s top competitor is an example of brand banter that I’ll always have a lot of time for. It just goes to show how simple, yet ingenious marketing can be. And of course, how beneficial it can be to your brand. Companies can, and do, spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on PR campaigns year on year which often involve extensive planning and execution – yet a tweet, which would have taken all of the best part of a minute to type and send, has earned the same (if not more) traction that these said campaigns would have.

Both work, but this example just goes to show that if it’s gotten right, friendly competition and banter can be super effective in comms.

Lidl – It’s A Lidl Bit Funny (The Good)

I thought about this one a lot, and to be honest – at first I wasn’t a big fan of it. However, unlike most things, the more I think about it, the more I actually like it. I’m not always a fan of brands imitating others, especially when it gets personal and sometimes spiteful. I see this as a cheap shot. Lidl’s marketing team though, with their quick off the mark ‘it’s a Lidl bit funny’ gag, was none of these things. In fact, all they did (ever so cool-y) was play on a lot of people’s frustrations with the typically iconic John Lewis ad – which was that it was out of touch and advertising a product that was unaffordable to many.

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It is a Lidl bit funny I do have to admit, and it’s also a Lidl – if not very – clever

Enter Lidl, who, within hours of JL’s ad release, took to Twitter (a bit of a recurring pattern forming here) to playfully mimic it. Advertising their much cheaper alternative in a simple yet commendably effective way.

The campaign worked wonders, and I hold my hat off to whoever thought of it. Right down to the simple play on words to the effortless timing – everything about this quick social advertisement exemplifies brilliance and once again proves that a campaign need not be over the top nor groundbreaking to be successful. This move by Lidl is the kind I have time for. I can’t stand it when brands abruptly and unapologetically slag off their competitors with little class and no consideration, however when companies can joke with one and other in good spirits – well, that’s what a wholesome business environment is all about. And there were no hard feelings from John Lewis either, who willingly replied to the tweet and remained seemingly unoffended.

That’s how it’s done!

Other Great Examples

This method of comms never seems to get old, and I’ve seen it done time and time again. Here are a few more of my top examples. Brands, it’s a fine line between being tacky or nailing it – and these are a few that example the latter.

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  • And McDonald’s ‘It Is Still A Big Mac’

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  • Oreo’s ‘You Can Still Dunk In The Dark’

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And The Bad…

So not to become a hypocrite, I’m not going to call out brands who call out other brands. Because, in my opinion, it’s trashy and there’s nothing sophisticated nor particularly clever about this form of Public Relations. What I am referring to, of course, are the companies (and there are a few) who take cheap shots at their competitors with no class present at all. I’ve seen brands execute billboards saying ‘buy this at our store because it’s £0.98 cheaper’ and there’s nothing positive that’s to be said about that kind of behaviour.

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Piggybacking off brands, and even making an example of them is OK if it’s done so in a professional and harmless manner. Shamelessly using ‘our products are cheaper than yours’ as the focal point of your campaigns not only looks desperate and spiteful, but more often than not – it’s not always true either.

When Brands Rally Together

While there’s a good appetite for competition, especially on social media, sometimes brands to the opposite. My favourite example of real-time communications and brand support on Twitter comes in the form of an alien tweet by drinks company, Sunny D. To which other brands rallied to offer words of support to. Creating a comical and somewhat enduring Twitter thread.

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Is There A Line?

I think there certainly is a line, and many brands, unfortunately, cross it. In the same breath, however, there are also those who know exactly how to use this marketing tactic effectively and can have a laugh with other brands in the process. It’s about using one and other as good sports as opposed to derailing your competition and being unclassy in the process.

I think, as long as you can get it right there’s absolutely no harm done in piggybacking off other brands. And if companies can do so constructively, I’d certainly even recommend it.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

P.s. – Thank You!

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I’m not quite done yet either. I just wanted to say a big, no a MASSIVE thank you to everyone who voted for me in the UK Blog awards for best PR, Marketing & Communication blog. I’m really super pleased to say I am now an official finalist. If it wasn’t for the people who read my blog and support me every day, I almost certainly wouldn’t bother. So for that, endless gratitude is in order. Thank you.

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PR and lifestyle blogger jessica pardoe

 

 

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