Making fun of the competition

Over at LinkedIn a marketing professional raised this question:

Would you consider it acceptable to send a mailer that pokes gentle fun at a competitor?

My answer was as follows:

I think as marketers we should rarely create "never" situations, because saying you should "never" do something limits the creative thought process. There was a time when it was said that a commercial should never run longer than 30 seconds. Now we have mini films like Hammer and Coop playing on the Internet. Thus, I think there are situations where you can consider poking fun at a competitor. But there are questions to ask.

Does the comparison inferred from "poking fun" at a competitor reflect your brand's position in the marketplace? If you are going to insinuate a flaw in your competition, your point of differentiation must be that you are the exact opposite. Mac poking fun at PCs for crashing would be more believable and palatable if Macs never crashed. However, Macs do crash, so consumers may react negatively to the comparison.

When is it a good idea to do this? When the deficiency that you are poking fun at is something that your product fixes or avoids and when you are a "smaller" company than the company you are making fun of. If a small company takes on a large company it creates an underdog situation which is a great way to generate buzz. Mark Hughes talks about this in his book "Buzzmarketing."

But never let humor or the urge to ridicule a competitor lead you away from your core brand promise or positioning.

That was my answer. What do you think?

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