Only unless you’ve been living under a rock would you have missed talks about the recent McDonald’s-Burger King marketing campaign.
As part of their annual fundraising campaign the American fast food giant, McDonald’s pledged to donate $2 per Big Mac they sold to children with cancer in Argentina. What caught the fancy of business analysts across the domain however, was its arch rival, Burger King’s response to the campaign. The latter cooked up a wonderful stir as it released posters declaring zero sales of its signature burger, the ‘Whopper’ on that day standing in support of the campaign.
Textbook business theory has always taught us that firms selling products that are near perfect substitutes play on their rival’s strategies to subvert consumer share in their favor. In fact, even common sense doesn’t suggest otherwise. In examples like these then, is it that business theory is failing or common sense?
On the contrary, examples like above form a relatively newly explored arena of counterintuitive marketing. This form of marketing is neither a corollary of market theories, nor of common sense. In fact, if one comes to think of it the foundations of counterintuitive marketing rest on the un-common nature of common sense itself.
According to market reports, this campaign of Burger King (BK) was quite well received and though it is too soon to be commenting on the sales trajectory, it is equally likely that sales have received an upward boost. So what worked here? Among the many things, first of all one has to give credit to new marketing strategies such as emotional marketing. Taking the example of BK itself, the campaign proved extremely effective in winning hearts and applause of countless netizens. Of course a day’s sales took a slight dip but the returns to that have been high. Imagine the context- an idea by McDonald’s, conceptualization and implementation by it and yet BK walks away with a huge share of the limelight. If that isn’t the best example of how counter-intuitiveness worked wonders for BK’s publicity, we have little idea of what else is!
Adding to that is the simple idea of how counter-intuitive marketing uses the same market forces working for concepts like perfect substitutes in its favor. Ever wondered why BK did not simply advertise a cut in its sales or partnered in revenue sharing agreements with McDonald’s? As part of a clever marketing tactic, mention of its signature burger, the ‘Whopper’, was significantly deployed to up its sales. I for one had little clue about the existence of a burger named like that, yet now I’m here writing an article on it. Probably I would remember its name the next time I walked into an outlet. Perhaps, many more like me would do too. Accept it or not, this concept of marketing has got consumers talking.
In markets where products are near perfect substitutes of each other there are little ways left to tap into higher profits, than indulging into non-price competition techniques such as discounts, add-ons etc. Economic theory guides that what consumers choose among these substitutable goods has got very little to do with their preferences, the products being near identical and in this case even their brand images. So one of the only ways to spike sales for a firm is to increase sales of its own consumer base, while at the same time working to divert its rival’s consumer base towards itself. In the case of BK, perhaps it did quite manage to hit the hot iron by getting consumers talking of the ‘Whopper’- those who knew plus those who did not. This underlying sly tactic is probably one of effective marketers’ best kept secrets.
Back in the day when the F&B bigwig, Coca-Cola, ran a campaign informing consumers of the harms of the sugary beverage most consumers were puzzled. However, in hindsight it was yet another closely thought over move by the company to venture into other, so-called “healthier” products Vitamin Water, Mount Franklin and Daily Juice Company. For its investments into such business diversifications to pay off, Coca-Cola had to work towards building a new brand image friendly towards the health-conscious. The company realized it was better-off making health products for its fitness conscious consumers rather than trying to make its earlier product healthier. It worked- to some extent yes. While new consumer base was acquired on one hand, on the other sales of the sugary beverage also did not take a major dip since loyalists continued to remain loyalists.
So be it Coca-Cola with this campaign, Indian FMCG giant Dabur with its DaburVatika (hair products) advertising in support of non-conventional forms of beauty by having bald women taking the lead, or the much discussed BK campaign- at least we agree counter-intuitive marketing is a thing.
However, we must stop short of assuming this to be sure-shot mantra to commercial success. Sample this: In 2009, Tata Motors took the automobile industry by a storm when the infamous Tata Nano, or the ‘1 Lakh’ car was introduced. Manufacturing was in place, price in place and the marketing full-blown. Most of us probably recall how popular it had become. Yet not so many Tata Nano(s) on the road today, right? There are some who have argued that revenue from this pricing proved insufficient to cover mounting cost and that led to the product’s reluctant fading away from the show. However, we can conveniently blame marketing here! Owner, Mr. Ratan Tata has admitted that the same idea of marketing this as the people’s car indeed backfired. The brand image of the car, of economical to the core, interfered with people’s sense of social status and being seen as drivers of a car that symbolized thrift didn’t quite go down well.
Cutting a long story short- closely developed non-price mechanisms go a long way in determining a product’s value and its time we focus some attention analyzing them.