Making cool look stupid

How do you assault a brand image that is the very essence of cool? Where the brand only has to get an unfavourable review for its acolytes to jump to its defence and flame the reviewer. I am speaking of course of Apple. For decades now, it has stayed at the pinnacle of cool, scorning all attempts to dethrone it. Even though they have sold millions of the same assembly line products, they have managed, through clever design and communication to make their features seem individually unique and desirable. Their army of followers have camped outside stores, waited with bated breath on blogs and rumor sites for the next unveiling or the next unboxing. Now, that’s another peculiarity – the act of taking a product out of the package and switching it on seems to drive frenzied viewership for those lusting after it. It’s like a product striptease and it gets the same kind of salivating response

So, a brand that has for long been seen as a pale imitation and a wannabe scored a deep hit with its commercials‘The Next Big Thing’. Samsung’s Galaxy S II, seen as a worthy foil to the mighty Apple 4S chose not to attack the specs of its competitor, even though that would have been a perfectly viable strategy. Instead, they made fun of its core consumers – the ones who would wait in a queue for days. And suddenly. the passionate followers of Apple seemed like a bunch of idiots. Which was reflected in a poll in a few weeks after the commercials started airing. Now, Samsung has gone in for the kill expanding a single idea into a series of commercials that make Apple look downright dowdy and out of touch – by attacking their fanboys. Apple now has the tough job of making not its products but its consumers look cool again – They might choose not to respond at all, but this can cool fan mania pretty quickly. No one likes being portrayed as a loser.

Another instance of attacking the consumers, instead of the product is playing out in India between two of the country’s leading newspapers, Times Of India (TOI) and The Hindu. A few months ago, TOI launched a blistering campaign against the staid image of its competitor, implying that it was so boring that its readers needed to wake up – to TOI. It showed a bored young man sleeping even in exciting situations. The implication was that news needed to be peppy and young – and that was what TOI delivered. The Hindu is not known to be aggressive but its latest commercials taking on TOI indicate that it is just as game for a fight. The ads show a set of young people who are not able to answer even the simplest questions, except of course film trivia. When asked which newspaper they read, they all mouth TOI, which is bleeped out. The final tag line – Stay ahead of the Times.

Ouch. That must have stung. Of course, young people these days no longer read newspapers, so the fight may seem irrelevant. But it’s an interesting turn in communication strategy. Make your competitors’ consumers look silly and their choices seem ridiculous as well.