Provocative Marketing – Are you brave enough?

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By: Richard Michie

Getting your competition to do your marketing for you is is a great marketing strategy. But it takes bravery and trust. Bravery, because you have to go all out, and trust in your ability to not get in the way when it takes off.

This is why lots of businesses shy away from provocative marketing. It’s not a tactic for the faint of heart.

Provocative marketing works best for the under-dog.

Burger King and McDonalds have been doing this dance for years.

Maccy D’s is the clear leader in the burger market worldwide, while Burger King, though still pretty massive, will always be, at best, number 2. No matter how cheeky Burger King are in their social media marketing, tagging their big competitor in sarcastic posts generating huge user engagement, McDonalds never retaliate. Why? Because that would show weakness and do BK’s marketing for them, by showing they are worried, or by seeming to notice at all.

This also gives Burger King total freedom to try lots of ideas that McDonalds would be unlikely to explore. In 2015 they even tried to lure McDonalds in with this Burger King McWhopper Proposal. Ronald didn’t take the bait.

Nike 0 – The Devil 1

In March 2021, Nike sued Brooklyn art collective MSCHF over a controversial pair of “Satan Shoes” that contain a drop of real human blood in the soles. They won the case and MSCHF had to stop selling the shoes. And that’s the end of the story, or so you’d think.

Before the case came to court, all the shoes sold out in one minute for $1,018 (£740) a pair. All Nike achieved by seeking to stop the sale of the trainers was to elevate them from a niche product few had heard of, to hitting the news around the world and raising the profile of rapper Lil Nas X internationally. For the 666 people who bought the shoes, Nike just increased the value and interest in the shoes immeasurably.

Hey, look at our competitor’s caterpillar!

Marks and Spencer managed a very similar own goal just weeks later in April 2021, when they managed to get Aldi UK all over the day’s news and social media, by beginning to take legal action against Aldi over the Colin the Caterpillar cake. In the process, they simply highlighted the fact that their competitor sells a very similar caterpillar birthday cake, but at a much lower cost.

Cue more sales at Aldi. Aldi 1 – M&S 0.

Even Judge Rinder got involved on the BBC

Meanwhile M&S kept digging!

All these cases are right out of Dave Trott’s marketing tool box, get your competition to do your marketing for you. It’s worked for years and years, and there are loads of case studies.

But as I said, you need to be brave and have trust if you’re going to pull off provocative marketing.

If you’re up for it, then please get in touch, we’d love to help you.

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