(Passive) Aggressive Advertising

Remember the good ol’ days when brands made subtle digs at their competition without actually calling them out by name?

Samsung expertly employed this passive-aggressive style of advertising in a series of commercials in starting in 2011. Here’s one example.

In this ad, Samsung doesn’t directly call out Apple, but the references to new adapters, “big screens,” and 4G capabilities (or lack thereof) are obvious to any iPhone user.

Recently, though, Samsung has dropped the passive and gotten downright aggressive in their advertising. Their commercials have taken on a new, bolder voice, and they aren’t holding back. Their latest offering is a clear rebuttal to Apple’s “Pencil” commercial.

Samsung isn’t the only company calling out its competition by name in 2014. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen this strategy used by Viva Paper Towels, Prego, and SodaStream. It brings to mind the original Pepsi Challenge campaign from the late 1970s/early 1980s.

The question is – does it work?

It worked for Pepsi – briefly. The campaign helped increase Pepsi’s popularity, and was partially responsible for driving Coke to the disastrous business decision to change its time-tested formula. But Coca-Cola rebounded and has dominated the market since.

As a fiercely loyal Apple user, I can tell you that the Samsung commercials would not make me run out to replace my iPhone or iPad. Some allegiances just run too deep.

In the case of paper towels and pasta sauce – products I’m less particular about – these commercials could have a more significant impact on my future purchases.

While these brands did it well, it would be easy for this type of advertising to go very wrong, very fast. Venture too far into “aggressive” territory, and your message could come across as desperate and off-putting.

What do you think? Have you ever changed your buying behavior based on one of these commercials? Do you think this marketing is effective, or is it a sign of a brand’s last resort?

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