The essence of competition is competition. That is, action leads to reaction which in turn leads to counteraction. This game could be deeply engrossing but mindlessly consuming. Therefore being within the ‘boundaries of reason’ is essential but a temptation to ‘breach’ it is phenomenal.
Consider when Ariel reduced its price substantially in a bid to capture market; Surf Excel did not lose any time to retaliate. When Coke became the official sponsor, Pepsi reacted by its famous ‘nothing official’ campaign. When Godrej entered the hand sanitizer market, Dettol and Lifebuoy went in to aggressive defense mode. Competition is all about territories and their protection but it is also about breaking into them.
A campaign to smear and disparage directly achieves little. ‘More’ could be ‘less’ in the absence of strategy. The way to fight is to win without assault. Observe the world of marketing and you will find that brands refrain from direct criticism. Direct mud slinging is rare. And when it happens nothing much is achieved. Recall recent Tide and Rin campaign. Often minor tactical gains are achievable but significant gains do not come by.
Competition need not always be bloody. If companies can meet their aspirations without having to cross lines,then existence is peaceful. But when one’s gain is the other’s loss, moves and counter moves define the situation. Rivalry is the name of the game when two or more firms chase the same target or aim to nibble at each other’s customer base. For instance HUL’s ‘Clear’ antidandruff shampoo would like to cut into P&G’s Head & Shoulders. Samsung’s Galaxy smart phone directly tries to woo i-phone’s customers (by calling it the ‘greatest smartphone ever’). Competition does not happen outside as we see. The real site of competition is the customer’s mind. The target of this winning or stealing is the customer. In case of the slugfest between the Government and Brand Anna, the target is the citizen of India. The indiscriminate ‘firing’ of ‘words’ is of little help. In communication often ‘more’ and ‘bitter’ is not the way.
If Pepsi wants to ‘win’ it cannot afford to blindly start attacking Coke. It must obtain finer details about the attitude and commitment of the customers. The nature of content and tone should accordingly be determined. Communication in a competitive scenario is not about what you ‘throw’ rather it is about what customers ‘pickup’. Pepsi (in our example) faces the following types of customers (similarly the Government):Committed to Pepsi; committed to rival Coke and the indifferent. Pepsi can win only when it manages to persuade the ‘indifferent’ and ‘Coke committed’ to be Pepsi drinkers.
The government’s response to Anna has been to mount an attack by identifying the ‘weaknesses’ (for instance: ‘Kejriwal receives notice from income tax department’; ‘CD involving the Bushans in conversation with certain politicians’; ‘Kejriwal collected money for NGO while in office’ or ‘investigation into Baba Ramdev’s businesses’). The critical question is how effective are these tactics in persuading the people especially who are either ‘indifferent’ or ‘committed ‘to Brand Anna?
Sheriff’s social judgment theory serves as a good guide in this context. The effect of persuasive communication (here, in this case anti Anna campaign) in terms of creating attitude change (of people given to Brand Anna or indifferent) would depend upon which zone it falls in. There are primarily three zones: latitude of acceptance, latitude of rejection and latitude of non-commitment. The ego involvement (how important is the issue ?) plays an important role defining these zones. The effectiveness of persuasive attempts by the government would depend upon where their arguments are falling.
Considering the response that Brand Anna received (exhibits high ego involvement with the issue of corruption or anchor point or the point of reference or initial attitude) people are likely to have larger latitude of rejection. A persuasive attempt or message discrepant to the original position (like Kejriwal collected money or his NGO has tax liability) by the government will fall in the zone of rejection (contrasted with the initial position of reference/ message directed is very different from point of reference- commitment to brand Anna) and hence is likely to be rejected by the people who are committed to Brand Anna. However reality would be exactly opposite for the people who are pro-government (assimilation effect).
Given the overwhelming response Anna received, it shows a very high level of involvement with Brand Anna (as anticorruption crusader) people are likely to have a narrow zone of acceptance (larger zone of rejection) for any discrepant information. The present strategy of persuasion adopted by the people in power is unlikely to result into desirable effect. ‘More’ the attempts and ‘higher ‘ the severity of criticism- less is the effect.