In its ads to introduce its new 737 MAX 8 and 747-8 aircraft, Boeing claims that its planes cost considerably less to operate than comparable Airbus A320neo and A380 models.Airbus countered with an ad accusing Boeing of exaggerating the capabilities of its new planes. In fact, the accusation borders on calling Boeing a liar since the headline asks the question, “Why is our competitor stretching the truth?”
A photo of a Boeing plane with an elongated Pinocchio-style nose follows the headline and emphasises the point (no pun intended). Very provocative.
Why is this so stupid?
While those of us that are on the sidelines might find this back and forth humorous, the tragedy of this ad war is that it does nothing to help either company sell its planes. It is just a giant waste of money. Why? Credibility.
The airlines that buy the planes are not going to be swayed by what these companies say about each other. They know Boeing and Airbus are rivals and that it is, unfortunately, common practice for rival companies with atrophied marketing brains and muscles to knock their competitors. Here’s what aerospace analyst Bruno Goutard said in David Pearson’s post in the Wall Street Journal about this ad war, “The verbal effervescence of the two plane makers doesn’t influence airlines’ decision-making processes to any significant degree.” What the airlines want to know is how these competitive alternatives will help them make and save more money.
Why is disparaging a competitor a big mistake?
There are so many reasons why directly “knocking” a competitor by name is ineffective. Here are six of them.
- Free advertising. When companies disparage their rivals by name, they make a free brand impression for them.
- No reasons to buy your product. Disparaging the competition does nothing to give buyers reasons to buy your product. In fact, many presume you are knocking your competitor because they are the one to beat.
- Makes you look bad. When you disparage competitors, many in the target audience think negatively about you.
- When you “put down” popular products, you are putting down the people that like them. Those you insult will not be inclined to buy your products, and they will spread the negative word about you to their friends – resulting in a negative word-of-mouth pyramid saying bad things about your company and products.
- Makes you look arrogant and insecure at the same time. Consumers learn at an early age that good companies don’t “bad-mouth” competitors. Leading companies know their products are good and have no reason to talk negatively about competitors.
- Puts a target on your back. When you tell the marketplace that your products are better than popular competitors, you are putting a target on your own back. Many will go out of their way to find defects and prove you wrong
What should these rivals say in their ads?
A more effective approach would be for Airbus and Boeing to quote independent third parties such as airline executives, aircraft experts, and aviation watchdog groups with no “axes to grind” in their ads. That would provide the credibility that is missing in the current ad slugfest that does not help anyone except perhaps the companies that make ads and the media publications that distribute them.
Time will tell
As Boeing and Airbus dispute each other’s claims, their customers (the airlines) will objectively evaluate which one provides the greater bundle of benefits. If one has a decided advantage over the other, the marketplace will discover the truth and undoubtedly favour the plane that can deliver the combination of safety, economy, and comfort that airline passengers want. For now, about the only benefit we can derive from the ad war is the entertainment value it provides. As my students would say, haha.
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