What Beer Companies Can Teach Us About the Dangers of Publicly Attacking Competitors

The growth strategyand corresponding marketing strategyof a company has a lot to do with the nature of its industry. When a new market is developed or discovered, we say there is a blue oceanan unmet demand in a market that isn’t served or is vastly underserved. Market share and sales can be increased by simply letting consumers know that a product or service exists and convincing them that they want the product. By contrast, in a red ocean, the market and the major players are already established, and the market is saturated. The only way to increase market share is to take market share from a competitor. That can be exceedingly difficult to do.

W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne popularized the concept of blue vs. red market strategies in their book Blue Ocean Strategy. It quickly captured the attention of entrepreneurs hoping to stand out from the crowd in meaningful, and innovative, ways.

Gloves Off in Fierce Product Competitions

Without the ability to forge new ground, marketers are forced to battle each other for supremacy in limited markets. This can lead to some intense and entertaining brand battles, where competitors not only tout the desirability of their own product or service but also take shots at those offered by the competition. Coca Cola and Pepsi, for example, have an extremely long history of taking shots at one another, dating back to the 1970s. This rivalry has made for some of the more memorable Super Bowl commercials over the last couple of decades.

But competitors must be careful with the content of their ads. Federal lawspecifically the Lanham Actprohibits false or misleading advertising, including in ads attacking competitors. This can represent a very slippery slope as Anheuser-Busch is learning.

Beware False or Misleading Advertising 

False or misleading advertising is exactly what MillerCoors is accusing Anheuser-Busch of in a lawsuit over some Bud Light Super Bowl ads. “Bud Light’s ads during Super Bowl LIII touted the fact that the beer is sweetened with rice rather than corn syrup. And they took jabs at its competitors,” writes Rob McClean in an article for CNN Business. “In the first ad, the Bud Light King, Bud Knight and others are trying to figure out what to do with a corn syrup barrel that was delivered to them by mistake. They set out to the Miller Lite castle to see if the barrel belongs there, but the castle had already received its delivery of corn syrup. Finally, they make it to the Coors Light castle whose occupants have been looking for their corn syrup barrel.”

While MillerCoors does use corn syrup in its production process, it says it does not use high-fructose corn syrup. While the details may be a bit sticky, there’s an important lesson here for marketers looking to steal market share from their red ocean competitors. Be careful that your ads and other marketing claims don’t cross a line and violate laws and regulations. Regardless of the result of a lawsuit, legal fees can pile up quickly for both sides. 

In May, a preliminary injunction was ordered to “temporarily stops Anheuser-Busch from using the words “corn syrup” in ads without giving more context,” according to the Chicago Tribune. While the story isn’t over yet, the message to marketers is loud and clear: make sure your claims are clear, relevant and, above all, accurate. Better yet, instead of trying to go head to head with competitors for the same share of market, it may be worthwhile to forge a new market in the blue ocean.


About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We are adept at evaluating and analyzing communication efforts and working with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content, through both on- and offline media to achieve desired results. Our background in business journalism, marketing, PR/media relations and online communications makes us well-positioned to serve the needs of 21st-century marketers.

We serve clients who are looking for help creating content for a wide array of channels—from social media posts to full-length manuscripts, and everything in between. We focus primarily on service-related B2B topics and work with a number of independent consultants interested in building their thought leadership through online channels. For ongoing content management, our first step is to fully understand your goals, objectives and competitive landscape.

Then we’ll conduct a thorough analysis and assessment of your digital presence, compared to competitors, and recommend a communication strategy to achieve your goals. But, we also regularly take on individual projects – white papers, blog posts, contributed articles, etc. If you’re interested in learning more, let us know!

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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