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Why “we suck less” is not smart marketing (or politics)…

Cingular Wireless started a new integtated marketing campaign not long ago talking about how they offer the fewest dropped calls of any company. They do a decent job with execution, displaying the claim on their website, in mass media, and in online media. The company touts their investment over the past year and cites “the leading independent research company” to back it up. However, they don’t actually talk about what percentage of calls the company drops. So, really, their only claim isn’t that they’ve got great coverage. It’s just that they’re not as bad as “the other guy.”

If you think about it, that’s what most politicians do. In their marketing, they also often claim nothing more than “I’m not as bad as ‘the other guy’.” So, Cingular is just basing their marketing on a proven technique, right? What harm can it do? Since Election Day in the U.S. is tomorrow, it’s useful to note what’s happened in terms of voter turnout over the last bunch of years. Voters (the consumers in this equation), have stopped showing up at the polls. The continual messages emphasizing, really, how bad the entire product category is has succeeded only in driving consumers away.

Imagine doing that to your brand. Sound marketing practice? I think not. Instead, why not focus your message on your positives? Effective marketing practice, particularly when dealing with the kinds of fragmented audiences we’re all facing today, should be to have your name associated with all the positives possible. Seth Godin provided an interesting point of view on trademarks the other day, noting how much better it is to have your name out there than not. While he discussed the dangers of “genericide,” he didn’t go anywhere near what consumers think of both your brand and the generic category. The implicit message is this: when in doubt, you want consumers to have a positive point of view at least of the category as well as your product.

The one place where you might think this kind of marketing works, particularly in politics, is when you’re the incumbent. No reason to have too many customers when you’re more concerned about folks buying from “the other guy,” right? Wrong. Unless you’re a politician, you’ve got to have consumers think positively about your category, else you’re simply creating opportunities for a category killer to come along and sideline the whole lot of you. For now, a better message is “we don’t suck and neither does our competition.” Then you’ve given yourself the opportunity to message why you’re the right choice.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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