There’s a common tactic in advertising where to elevate the brand being promoted they spend most of the time talking about how terrible a competitor brand is by comparison. This brand bashing tactic is also used in political campaigns particularly in the United States and in more recent years in Canada as well. While this may seem to be an effective strategy for companies trying to sell you soap and soft drinks, it’s a terrible practice to adopt when it comes to you and your art business.
When it Works vs When it Doesn’t
I’ll admit, as a passionate Apple product user, I enjoyed the “Mac vs PC” commercials of the early 2000s. They personified the two computer types featuring actors Justin Long as the super cool and modern Mac and John Hodgman as the stuffy and archaic PC. The series was funny and lighthearted. Even some avid PC users admitted to enjoying the commercials. Is Apple the perfect company they claim to be? Probably not. In that marketing campaign, it was understood that humor was being used in a fun and clever way to highlight Mac’s features and convince consumers why they should buy a Mac over a PC.
In later years, both Microsoft and Samsung would create commercials poking fun at back at Apple and its users also in a humorous fashion. This hilarious tit-for-tat made for entertaining advertisements at the time, but each company would soon direct their advertising focus to only how great their products were without the need to make fun of their competitors.
In comparison, when you see ads that clearly depict brands in a slanderous or negative way, that is a whole other thing. I believe that consumer brand companies should be able to lightly poke fun at each other for the purposes of entertaining advertising, but there has to be a line. When you spend more time highlighting the negative qualities of your competitor than you do what you or your product is bringing to the table, one has to question whether you have much to bring to it at all.
In any commercial or ad that I have seen where the hero company uses blatant negativity or slander to position themselves as better than the competitor, it has rarely if ever swayed me to that company’s product. In fact, it sometimes has done the exact opposite. It makes sense to address the pain points consumers may have with your competitor’s products. Doing this can be used to illustrate how you have solved those problems with what you are offering. If you just spend the majority of the time talking about the negatives of your competitor, however, your offering will soon seem hollow.
Us vs Them Culture
Generally speaking, people love being part of the “us vs them” culture. A common example is sports team rivalries. Sit in the stands of any home game against a rival team and you’ll see a once mild-mannered neighbor become a passionate fanatic. It creates a sense of community and belonging among strangers over a shared interest and goal.
This behavior is not lost in the art world either. Colored pencil artists often passionately debate their love or hate for brands like Prismacolor Premier. Colored pencil Facebook groups are littered with someone innocently asking what is the best brand of colored pencils to buy, followed by a stream of comments. Inevitably, there is always a debate about good old Prismacolor in there somewhere.
Related: How to Pick Your Coloured Pencils
We love to be right. We love to be an authority on something and be praised for our opinions. Some people love to be right so much that it can turn into self-righteousness. When we feel very passionate about something and feel we have a justified point of view on that subject, it’s hard not to then feel like we want to be an evangelist for that thing. Many times those treading the path of self-righteousness, however, neglect to consider that their opinion may not be the only valid one on a matter. They then make statements as if they are presenting facts rather than as offering their own unique perspective.
The internet and social media, while full of both wonders and terrors have now allowed anyone with an account and internet connection the ability to share their opinions with the masses. Influencers make anywhere from hundreds to millions of dollars sharing their opinions on brands and advocating for them. Why trust a brand that has a clearly biased opinion when you can trust a celebrity or friend you follow on Instagram for their “unbiased” opinion instead?
Advertising agencies figured out that partnering with “real people” that were willing to promote their products gained them credibility among consumers tired of being very obviously sold to in tv commercials and magazine ads. Add to that, that their target demographics were now largely spending all of their time on social media sites and it seemed like the perfect recipe to reach consumers.
While we often look to someone who we admire or respect for recommendations on products, it’s important to still do your own research on whether that product is right for you. I have a personal rule where I don’t share or promote products I don’t believe in myself. What I recommend may not be right for everyone but that is different than knowingly steering someone down the wrong path for a buck. Even in my product reviews, I encourage people to try the product for themselves and form their own opinions.
Many artists promoting products also have this policy, but others may not. It’s important to use your discretion at all times when spending money on something you might not be sure of. I would personally be very leery of someone who outwardly bashes a certain product and follows it up with “buy this instead.” Ask yourself what the motivation or bias may be. Are their opinions based on proven facts or are they just their opinions? While personal user experience does have merit, it still needs to be heeded with caution. Amazon reviews, for example, can be helpful in either convincing or dissuading you from buying a certain product, but only if they are legit and not faked.
Navigating Brand Accountability
Brand accountability is a real consideration for people when choosing where to spend their hard-earned money. If you have strong feelings against supporting companies that have inhuman manufacturing processes or are affiliated with organizations you are against then it’s your right to not support them. While it may be tempting to shout from the rooftops how awful those companies are and how no one should buy from them, your air time is better spent advocating for the ones you do support and why.
For example, there is a difference between saying:
“Company A is amazing, I love using their products because they have sustainable foresting practices and their quality is the best I have used to date!”
“Company A is amazing, they’re so much better than Company B. Company B cuts down rainforests to make their products. Don’t buy from Company B.”
The first statement uses positive language to focus on and promote Company A and gives tangible reasons why you are passionate about it. The second statement is more emotionally activating and will likely create some heated dialog. It also places the majority of the focus on the company you DON’T want to support. One comes off like an affirmation of quality for Company A while the other comes off like a rant about Company B.
Think of this in relation to your personal brand and business. Is your position to promote and create awareness about the companies you love or the ones that you hate? One position associates you with things like authority and positivity and the other associates you with things like sensationalism or negativity.
Does this mean I’m saying we shouldn’t call out companies who do terrible things? No, it doesn’t because we absolutely should. There’s a time and a place for that though. When it comes to your brand and what you are attaching your name to, consider how you want to be perceived. The message you are sending out about others creates a perception around you as well.
It is my experience that finding a tactful positive way to direct people’s attention to brands and products that are great is more effective for your business in the long run than giving attention, even negative, to those that are not. Unless your whole deal is calling out brands who infringe upon some aspect of things like morality, culture, or environment, it’s best not to go that route with your art business.
Final Thoughts on Brand Bashing
I’m not so naive as to think that the whole us vs them brand-bashing ways of marketing are going to go away overnight. Sensationalism sells and companies and personal brands have been doing it for decades for a reason. That doesn’t mean that it makes sense to do that in EVERY area of marketing especially when it comes to your art business.
Any product that you create, sell or promote is in turn a reflection of your brand. Posting a video about how much you hate a certain product and are never using it again might be great for views and engagement, but at what cost? At what point are you not just trading biased and borderline if not actual bully behavior for better engagement and SEO?
Choosing to be a source of positivity and equality will give your brand and your business a longer-standing lifeline. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be honest about when something doesn’t perform as expected. It just means you don’t have to make your entire message about it either. YOU ultimately get to decide the tone of how your brand is perceived. A big part of that starts with the choices you make in how you speak about the brands and products you promote and align yourself with.