In Advertising – Don’t Follow the Leader

When creating an ad, many entrepreneurs look to copy their top competitor — usually the leader, or the business that was first in the market. They figure whatever type of ad worked for the leader must be good enough for them. Nothing could be farther from the truth and leads to the worst kind of market positioning — forever limiting you to the me-too position, or at best – second best.

This is seen many times with auto ads, landscaping and liquor store ads. It’s hard to tell one competitor apart from the other as each advertiser copies the other. Depending on the category, these me-to ads can be either endless lists of products, similar layouts, or identical coupling strategies and color combinations. The ads do nothing to differentiate the newer entry from the established known brand in the market.

Without differentiation, consumers will always go to the established brand, and may even be willing to pay more for the established brand trust. When entering a market against an established competitor, the first rule is to differentiate yourself. Differentiation can be achieved in many ways, but it’s the advertising that lets the public in on your differentiating secret. It’s why your ad needs to be different as well.

In an earlier post, I advocated imitating ads from great national brands. Why isn’t that contradictory with this post telling you not to follow the leader? Because you need to differentiate yourself in your market. Adapting a concept from a leader outside your market can keep you fresh within your market. Creating a me-too ad in your current market does not. It keeps you racing to just catch up.

A great example are the presidential mimic radio ads for KIA dealers. If a local non-KIA dealer did the same concept it would fall flat. But, if you go to another market and happen to hear a similar spot, you realize KIA national is playing a hand in local dealer’s radio spots. And regardless of where you are in the country, you’ll recognize the mimic ads as KIA brand. For locals, it differentiates the KIA dealer from other brands. Nationally, it helps brand KIA overall.

Copy-cats ads are ineffective in any medium and don’t let you break out of the pack. Challenge your designers, media consultants or agencies to give you something different to make you stand out in your market.

The Walk-away:  When it comes to advertising, don’t follow someone else’s style. Differentiation is key. Run your own race. Take a different approach.