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The Best Defense

P&G’s goal was quite clear: turn Huggies’ unique point of difference from a positive into a negative, effectively proclaiming, “The new feature not only is not much of a benefit; it is a significant problem.” The implication is that parents are far better off with a diaper that is more difficult to get off since it reduces the chance that kids will remove it on their own.

Kimberly-Clark responded by suing P&G for the advertisement, and eventually Kimberly-Clark won the suit. By the time that occurred, however, P&G had blunted Huggies’ advance.

Highlighting the risks associated with a new product is another promising defensive angle. This strategy is most effective when there is a basis for the defense — when the established company can identify a problem with the new entrant. However, there doesn’t need to be an actual problem for the strategy to be effective; the established company can simply run spots with a warning to customers: “Don’t be fooled by new entrants.”

The osteoporosis drug Actonel responded to the launch of Boniva by directly attacking the new product. Actonel took out full-page ads announcing, “What about that new osteoporosis medicine, Boniva? Boniva is not proven to prevent fractures beyond the spine. Get the proven fracture protection of Actonel.” The ad featured a pleasant-looking lady stating, “I asked for one good reason to stick with Actonel. My doctor gave me seven.” The ad then highlighted seven common locations of fractures.

The Actonel team managed to pull off a defensive coup on January 11, 2006, when its full-page ad attacking Boniva ran in The New York Times on page A11, just in front of Boniva’s ad on page A13.

GlaxoSmithKline used this approach in the HIV market to limit a trial of competitive products. One Glaxo ad featured shark-infested waters and stated, “Don’t take a chance — stick with the HIV medicine that’s working for you.” Another ad recommended that patients ask their physician, “Will the HIV medicine make my skin or eyes turn yellow?” This was a common side effect of competing items.

One of the more remarkable examples of a company disparaging a competitor’s product comes from Argentina. In 1997 Procter & Gamble was preparing to introduce its Ariel brand of detergent to that market. Unilever was the category leader — with a market share of about 80 percent — and the company was logically concerned about P&G’s entry. Shortly before P&G’s launch, Unilever apparently began running advertisements for a small toilet-seat maker, Ariel del Plata. The ads featured rear ends and toilet seats, repeating again and again “Ariel, Ariel, Ariel.” The campaign effectively connected the name Ariel with toilets, wiping out any chance that Procter & Gamble would be able to make consumers associate the name with detergent.

Tim Calkins

Tim Calkins, Defending Your Brand, published 2012, reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

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The Reviewer

  1. Jim Stengel ([email protected]) is the president and CEO of the Jim Stengel Company, a strategy and marketing think tank and consultancy. He is the author of Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies (Crown Business, 2011) and an adjunct professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Stengel was the global marketing officer of Procter & Gamble for seven years.

This Book

  1. Defending Your Brand: How Smart Companies Use Defensive Strategy to Deal with Competitive Attacks (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), by Tim Calkins
  2. Tim Calkins ([email protected]) is a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and managing director of Class 5 Consulting, a marketing strategy firm. He is the author of Breakthrough Marketing Plans: How to Stop Wasting Time and Start Driving Growth (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008 and 2012) and coeditor, with Alice M. Tybout, of Kellogg on Branding (John Wiley & Sons, 2005).
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