Have aggressive marketing tactics become a passe?

Reposting here from my recent Huffington Post Article. https://goo.gl/7OQ0yn

There was a time when corporate giants centred their marketing around aggressively promoting themselves as better than their closest competitors. Remember the much documented cola wars that lasted for more than two decades? In fact, they pioneered an entire genre of advertising. It seems passe now with all brands trying to project a positive image of themselves.

Coming down too strong on a competitor can actually create a negative brand perception in some cases. After all, nobody likes to be around the whiny kid who keeps dissing everybody else. But sometimes, even the biggest and most profitable businesses fall prey to this age-old marketing tactic.


Take for example this ad from Microsoft that was published widely in newspapers across the world in 2012.

Though not aggressive in the manner of the good old fashioned aggressive marketing, this one drew its share of flak. One criticism against this ad was the tone and the digs they made on Google. The ad speaks only about what Google is doing wrong, but nothing about what they are themselves doing right, or why they are a better alternative. This campaign backfired so badly that the company had to tone down the following ad in this series. In any case, most consumers said the ad didn’t encourage them to buy a Microsoft product, or made them like the company.


This example teaches us a couple of important lessons about aggressive marketing tactics. First one is that while engaging in it, you unintentionally give the competitor free advertisement. In fact, you are paying for their publicity in a way. Second is that it gives the other brand a chance to redeem itself by showing itself in a better, brighter light. This, indirectly, puts your credibility to question.

I believe Australian marketer Catherine Stock-Haanstra wrote on a blog holds true for any kind of aggressive marketing, she says

“Using negative connotation is a risky business that leaves a lot in the hands of the recipient. If they take your message at face value (“they’re terrible, we’re great, use us”) you’re onto a winner. However you run the risk of your message being missed and the emotion behind it — in this case your brand saying negative things about another — being the taste left in the audience’s mouth.”


What is it exactly that drives people to like a brand? Or develop a loyal relationship with it? If you were to believe a survey conducted by Cone Communications and Ebiquity in 2015, 90% consumers trust and 88% said they were loyal to brands that are socially responsible. It also showed that most people were willing to pay more or even switch brands based on whether they were contributing to the society positively.

Indeed this is the day and age of showing how your business is impacting its stakeholders. This also gives you means of using these stakeholders or any other beneficiaries as your brand ambassadors instead of celebrities. And not only does it help the consumers connect with your brand better, it also brings down your advertising cost substantially. It gives your company a more human face.


Today, businesses understand that CSR gives them better marketing opportunities than any other activity. According to consulting firm EPG, US and British companies are now spending $15bn year on CSR work. Marketing budgets are being cut down to interact directly with the consumers through social media. So has corporate giving replaced aggressive, in-your-face marketing?

“CSR-branded campaigns are helping companies with better marketing, leapfrog others with more established and responsible business practices with companies getting credit on sustainability rankings and lists merely for being transparent. A company can easily leapfrog competitors by cohesively telling their CSR story. Today, performance is truly just as important as effective marketing in the marketplace,” believes John Yohannan, a CSR and communications strategist.


Even the Gods of aggressive marketing have changed their tactics in recent times. In 2015, Coca Cola came up with a framework called “We, Me, World” which is meant to serve as guidelines for the international beverage manufacturer to create social value and make positive impact on the consumer, shareholder and communities they cater to.

Meanwhile Pepsi has come up with a list of targets under the head “People, Planet and Products”. When asked about the initiative PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indira Nooyi said,

“To succeed in today’s volatile and changing world, corporations must do three things exceedingly well: focus on delivering strong financial performance, do it in a way that is sustainable over time and be responsive to the needs of society.”

This is the cola war of the new generation. Fighting for goodwill and upping each other on positive image within the society. And, soon, we will have all other businesses following suit.