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Turn Your Competitor's Strength into a Weakness

Turn Your Competitor's Strength into a Weakness

August 26, 2008

Plus, a 3-step 'take-down' approach you can use right away

By now, I'm sure you've seen the ad John McCain is running in which he compares Barack Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears and describes Obama as 'the biggest celebrity in the world.'

The 'celeb ad' is a stroke of genius. Whether you agree with the ad or whether you support one candidate or the other isn't the point and I know I'm bringing this up at the risk of getting into a political discussion, but I want to draw attention to the marketing strategy behind the ad.

It's what I call 'marketing judo.' It's quite clever and it's a marketing approach I've used for years. You simply take a competitor's strength that everyone already recognizes and turn it into a weakness. Everyone knows Obama has gained worldwide popularity and is often compared to John F. Kennedy for his charismatic style and eloquent speeches. So what did McCain do? He turned Obama's celebrity status into a negative and compared him to other not-so-flattering celebrities.

And it worked. The ad got more hits on Youtube.com than any other video. The ad is also credited with McCain raising $27 million in July and helped him increase the number of donors to 1.5 million - still short of Obama's 2 million.

Marketing judo works. For years, everyone knew Hertz as the leading car rental company so Avis launched its 'we try harder' advertising campaign. Hertz's market dominance became a weakness. At the time, Avis was an unprofitable company with only 11% of the car rental business. Four years later, Avis restored its profitability and tripled its market share to 35%.

Dominos Pizza established itself as the brand that delivers within 30 minutes. So what did Papa Johns do? It didn't say we'll make the pizza even faster and deliver it within 28 minutes. They positioned themselves as the one with 'better ingredients and better pizza'. In this case it works, but in general I don't recommend simply using 'er' as in better, cheaper, faster, etc. as your brand promise.

The White Shirt Company, which specializes in selling luxury dress shirts in just one color, clearly tells prospects on its website that it is not the low-cost supplier and proudly says: ON OUR SITE YOU WON'T FIND 4 SHIRTS FOR '100.'

How can you use marketing judo in your market? If everyone knows the competition as faster, position yourself as the one who makes sure it's done right. If your products aren't cheaper, position them as completely different like apples and oranges. Turn their strength into a weakness that you can leverage.