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MARKETING RESEARCH

Brands can boost their own reputations and sales by praising rivals​

By our News Team | 2022

Being nice to your competitors in public can pay off in unexpected ways for brands, researchers find.

Whether they’re snide comments on billboards or sparring on social media, big brands are known for taking jabs at their competitors.

But what these brands usually don’t do is say nice things about their rivals, because they wouldn’t want to grant an adversary free publicity, says Keisha Cutright, a Marketing Professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in the US. 

This sounds reasonable. But recent research by Professor Cutright, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Marketing, suggests exactly the opposite: a little goodwill shown to your competitors can pay off.

Remarkably, nearly a dozen experiments with almost 4,000 people show that a brand that compliments a competitor ends up boosting its own reputation and sales.

Marketing Research

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“You don’t want to spend your media dollars talking about the competition, but there are times when it makes sense to say something nice, and at the same time, signal who you are as a brand,” Cutright explains. “That message is that they’re a warm, caring brand that you can trust – which implies they’re also going to be considerate and warm to their customers.” 

Kit Kat ‘praises’ its rival brand Twix

In one experiment, the researchers showed a group of consumers a fictitious tweet from chocolate brand Kit Kat praising another chocolate brand, Twix: “Competitor or not, congrats on your 54 years in business! Even we can admit—Twix are delicious.”

After 11 days, the researchers asked the consumers who saw the fake tweet to report any candy purchases. People who saw the public message from Kit Kat praising Twix were 34% more likely to buy a Kit Kat compared to a control group that saw a tweet from Kit Kat about its own product. Importantly, the authors noted, Twix sales didn’t increase, even after Kit Kat praised the candy as delectable.

In a surprising turn, the most sceptical of the consumers in the experiments were likely to have the biggest positive response to brands that tipped their hats to a competitor, the researchers found.

“Seeing a brand take a risk like this seems to break the ice with consumers who are least trusting of companies’ intentions,” Cutright explained. “But praising a competitor will be most effective when done strategically and at the right moment – authenticity is key.”

“If you are constantly talking about the competition, people may not see it as sincere,” Cutright said. “This isn’t something brands need to do all the time, but it’s something they shouldn’t be afraid to do occasionally to help boost perceptions of their warmth and trustworthiness.”

Read the full research here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/00222429211053002

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