The Negative Side of Negative Advertising

The Negative Side of Negative Advertising

As a startup, you are engaged in a competitive battle for investments, customers, revenues, employees, and more. You have to decide how to go to the competition and what tactics you will use. Negative is not a good answer.

With the launch of Apple’s latest iPhone 6/6 Plus, both Microsoft and Samsung have been spending massive dollars on the negative ad campaign. Microsoft is spending its time explaining what its voice assistant Cortana can do, by explaining what Apple’s Siri cannot. Samsung is using screenshots of tweets and stories about how Samsung has had a big phone for a few years.

This tells me that Apple continues to out-market.  I acknowledge that Apple has resorted to negative campaigns in the past (the famous I’m a Mac series with Justin Long and John Hodgeman), but the current marketing approach is very different.  Looking at how these behemoths go right and go wrong is very instructive for startup marketing.

Samsung and Microsoft do a few things when they go negative:

  1. Focus user emotions on negative feelings
  2. Remind users that Apple is the leader
  3. Spend time on someone else’s brand and assets

Quite frankly, they sound like the kid in school who was trying to convince you why he was better than the most popular kid.  From personal experience, that is not an effective way to become popular.

Apple, on the other hand, (and Google, too, so you don’t think I am too much of a fan boy), advertise about functions and emotions. No one wanted to cry because of a Gmail commercial, but Google made you. They help you understand what the real value of communication is and helped use to see how Gmail can connect you with the people in your life.

In a similar vein, Apple’s iPhone commercials are focused on what the phone helps you create, within the universe of applications.  A great example is the disillusioned teenager/awesome Christmas video ad.

Competition for startups can be hard to define. At Wallaby, we often talk about three areas where we have competitors–not just a single direct comparison. That said, we have always had competitors. The week we first launch Wallaby 1.0 for the iPhone, two other startups launched the exact same app the same week.  That resulted in a a number of questions from investors, reporters, etc.

There were two ways to approach this:

  1. Explain why Wallaby is unique in its approach to the business
  2. Explain why we’re better than our competitors (read: Explain why our competitors suck)

We went with #1. We felt that although on the surface the apps looked similar, if we explained our real plan and what we were focused on (which is to say, not just an app), we would come out on top.

I suppose that, as a startup, the jury is still out on our total success. That said, our competitors have either pivoted or stopped updating their apps. We feel that our approach was correct and that by emphasizing what we do right and why it matters to users, we can continue to come out on top.