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Laura's Word 25 July 2013



OMG BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Laura's Word 25 July 2013

Judging by the afterbirth of branded tweets, print ads and stunts that followed the Royal birth, adland got itself a bit over-excited at the arrival of a new tiny princeling. I do wonder if a couple of marketing teams might have spent a little longer on the “is regal obstetrics really ‘on-brand’?” discussion. But I hope we’ve all got it out of our systems because there are more pressing matters at hand; the newly announced Batman/Superman mash up.

San Diego Comic Con 2013 drew to a close on Sunday, and the biggest talking point – other than Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston’s genius Walter White disguise and whispers that the Duncan Jones-directed Warcraft movie might not suck – was the revelation that the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight are finally going to battle it out on the big screen. 

The ‘who would win in a fight, Superman or Batman?’ debate is so enduring that it has become the stuff of offbeat indie movie cliché, but understandably so. However you dress it up (spandex, Kevlar, underpants on the outside…) when Batman faces the Joker or Superman takes on Lex Luthor, what you get is a fairly straightforward morality tale. But with two ostensible ‘good guys’ squaring off, we get to ignore the epic-battle-of-good-and-evil in favour of petty professional rivalries and jealousies. In other words, the messy, interesting stuff.

And it’s not just comic book nerds who have a thing for these rivalries – real or imagined. There are brands today which are defined by their relationship with their main competitor and which, I suspect, are framed in most consumers’ minds as a weirdly commercialised yin-yang. Coke vs. Pepsi, Nike vs. Adidas, PlayStation vs. Xbox, Unilever vs. P&G. Thinking about it in design terms, if the ‘negative space’ surrounding a brand like Coke is ‘everything that Coke is not’, that space can easily become ‘every way in which Coke is different from Pepsi’. 

Humans are innately attracted to symmetry and we have a tendency to project personalities and intentions onto inanimate objects. Just as we see faces in random patterns, we see feuds that don’t exist. More often than not these rivalries are just a question of perception – though some are somewhat more strategic.

Recently Samsung has been propelling its brand upwards by occupying the negative space around Apple, or, rather, fitting Apple into the negative space around its own brand. Indeed, a few years previously Apple did the very same with its long-running ‘Mac vs. PC’ campaign, which took the brand out of its design-led, hipster niche. 

On the console front, poor old Microsoft has been left stunned by PlayStation, which has come over all Mohammed Ali in recent months. When it was revealed that the new Xbox would not allow players to use second hand games and that the console would require constant internet connection, gamers were scathing. People might be happy to spend a couple of quid/dollars/euros to watch a film once, but when you’re shelling out £50 on a game, you want to know that there’s some re-sale value. PlayStation immediately responded by saying that the PlayStation 4 would be totally cool with second hand games and released a cheeky video. Until that point, the reveal of the next generation of gaming consoles had been pretty dull, but in an instant PlayStation reframed it as a fight between a lumbering behemoth and a nimble, wise-cracking Peter Parker. 

The thing is, these rivalries can be pretty exhausting when they drag on, particularly when they descend into nastiness. Where the Batman versus Superman battle might offer a new perspective for brands – ones that are willing to draw lessons from fictional characters who prance about in capes – is that it’s tempered by a grudging respect. It can be a smart move that places the challenger brand on a par with the top dog it wants to displace, but there is always a danger of becoming locked into a tiresome, eternal battle. Don’t start what you can’t finish.

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 24 Jul 2013 17:07:02 GMT