One simply cannot be great without a great rival. There can be no measure – no comparative of skill, readiness, or wit. The challenge of a rival can change a vision – and can even change the world. The biggest of the brand rivalries can teach us much in the way of secretive strategies, brilliance through failure, and nobility in victory.
As a marker, you must “Know Thine Enemy”. There must be a list of those who chew up your market share, excel at captivating your target audiences’ share of mind, or who compete for your customers’ share of wallet. There must be a name (or names) of those against whom you benchmark your business. We chose some of the best examples to demonstrate how healthy competition can change a market for good.
Coke vs. Pepsi
This legendary rivalry almost needs no description since it seems to be one of those “grass green, sky blue” facts of life. Coca-Cola currently controls a staggering 50% of the soft drink market, while Pepsi claims just over 20%.
Tesla vs. BMW
It seems like in the past few years, Tesla had everyone’s attention, conservatively outselling the nearest competitor by over 30 percent. BMW’s response? To also create an electric car they felt would rival Tesla. However, while they are both considered luxury cars, they are quite different. Tesla had the advantage of promoting the first electric car, one that was desirable enough to get the public’s attention. BMW took the stance of fulfilling a role that Tesla currently couldn’t by standing out as a vehicle that was deemed to be more accessible. It’s safe to say we haven’t seen the last of the Tesla competition, as electric vehicles, particularly from BMW, are becoming more popular to produce and sell.
GE vs. Westinghouse
The War of Currents is a fascinating period in American history that rarely finds its way into classrooms, probably because it makes Thomas Edison look bad. Very, very bad. When Serbian engineer and scientist Nikola Tesla filed seven patents for utilities and products powered by alternating current (AC), he caught the attention and patronage of George Westinghouse of the Westinghouse Corporation. The pair would continue to try and develop this technology, and paved the way for battery and solar cell technology using DC current. Unfortunately, arch-nemesis Thomas Edison, co-founder of General Electric (GE) and a major developer of DC technology, was nota fan of AC. (Or, more specifically, the threat AC posed to his profitable empire.)
Edison fought dirty just to make sure Westinghouse and its prolific prodigy Tesla didn’t get a fair share of the market. The ensuing parade of propaganda to make this happen went to some dark and deeply unethical places. Edison resorted to horrific displays of animal cruelty in order to discredit AC, going so far as to hold demonstrations where he electrocuted homeless cats and dogs with AC current to confuse and panic the public.
As entertaining as well-executed brand rivalries can be, there is a point where they can go too far and cross over into grossly unethical territories. Please don’t do that.
Marvel vs. DC
Mainstay comic book publisher Marvel has been locked in heated battle with its rival DC for decades, with each one gently mocking the other in letters sections and other publications. They even crossed over their superhero comics in a 1996 miniseries, pitting their most popular characters against one another and letting fans vote on who should win.
These days, their rivalry has spilled into Cineplexes and home theaters. Warner Brothers owns DC, and Disney owns Marvel, and the calendars of moviegoers are saturated with adaptations of their most popular comics (though in the case of Guardians of the Galaxyand Big Hero 6, most obscure). Although neither company could be accused of floundering financially at the box office, Marvel seems to be the darling of the duo right now. The aforementioned Guardiansalone netted an applause-worthy amount of records, largely thanks to a brilliant marketing campaign that turned a C-lister like Star Lord from a “Who?” to a household name. Meanwhile, online response to the first Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justicetrailer has been . . . less than positive, if we want to spin it kindly. While DC’s Wonder Womangrossed $821.8 million at the box office, it didn’t come close to the $1.13 billion from Marvel’s Captain Marvel or the $2.8 billion that Marvel’s Avengers End Gamebrought in.
Brand rivalry is often the key driver a creative arms race of sorts that ultimately benefits the consumer. Regardless of whether or not you love blockbuster movies, soft drinks, or greasy to-go breakfasts, at least brands are putting forth a genuinely laudable effort to entertain people in the heat of competition.