Dirty Marketing- Fighting brands unethically

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 5696 , Published on 31 October 2011

Marketing, in laymen’s language is promoting a product or brand mutually satisfying the need of consumers, manufacturers, retailers and people involved in between. All companies have their marketing plans. But, simultaneously companies have their “Dirty Marketing” plan too in place. If one can’t market their product or can’t break up into another product they use dirty marketing strategies to gain market share.


What is dirty marketing?

Dirty Marketing is exploring chunks in competitors’ advertisements and running through spoof ads, or defaming one’s brand or creating obstacles though legally but unethical.

Dirty marketing is basically used by organisations in # 2 or 3 in the market, and have the resources to sustain a challenge to the leader.


This includes:

1. The main consideration is the strength of the leader’s position.

2. Find a weakness in the leader’s strength and attack at that point.

3. Launch the attack on as narrow a front as possible.

A brightest example of dirty marketing is during late 1980s a soft drink MNC purchased their competitor’s empty glass bottle from all kirana stores. As an MNC, the corporate had big buying power. They purchase empty glass bottles and destroyed them. For the brand, processing those glass bottles is a long process, needing 3 months to get that number of glass bottles again. So, that brand was not available into the kirana stores. That was a setback for the brand as consumers feel the brand is not always available and they felt the brand is not serious for their business.

MNC what did was not legally wrong, but unethical. They found out a loop hole, processing glass bottles is a long process and they exposed that.

Many organizations are coming up with Dirty Marketing department. Thinking of very best marketing strategies and communications tactics is a time consuming process. One needs to have ample funding to do market research, to hire the most creative talent, to always follow best practices, to test marketing, and to launch campaigns with great fanfare. On contrast, developing dirty marketing is comparatively an easier job. Find out a loophole, exploit it and you are in race, frog leaping.

"Too often, companies focus on understanding only the current demand of the consumer," wrote Edward Tse, a VP with the consultant Booz Allen Hamilton. What companies do now, they try to attack on peoples psych. They advertise in a way, that if one is not using their product they create a stigma.

For example, Procter & Gamble created the perception that dandruff; traditionally a nonissue for the Chinese is a social stigma and offered a product (Head & Shoulders antidandruff shampoo) to 'solve' the problem.

On the same line, mobile operators activate a service for free for limited period, even without asking customers. When a customer gets back to them, they say it’s a free service. But, when this limited period is over, they start debiting every month. They activate paid service without the paying customer voluntarily asking for it?

Not representing the clear facts about the products qualifies under dirty marketing. Top FMCG Company advertises their products as 99.7% germs killer, 99.9% tooth germ killer etc. There are no proven facts. But, they fruitfully utilize the loopholes in a system and boost their product on falsy claims.

Rin vs. Tide advertisement is still afresh in peoples mind. The big-shots of Media industry are surprised. How can you do this? How can one think of even ‘thinking’ this? Comparative advertisements are not new to the audiences. What is shocking here is the under-the-belt attack on the competitor. Rin comes upfront and speaks the competitor’s name in its ad in a manner that degrades the positioning of Tide. Every brand has time and again used such comparative tactics in their communications, but by air-brushing or pixilation of the competitor’s name, logo or packet. One implied and understandably adhered rule of communication is that you never speak your competitor’s name, as it gives unnecessary mileage to the competing brand at your own cost. Here, all such rules are broken and that too, in a quite upfront do-what-you-can manner. It is actually a well thought out and a perfectly executed strategy that focused on creating the “Buzz”.

Similarly, Horlicks vs. Complan ad. Horlicks launched such attack on Complan some time back and provoked a sleeping, laid-back giant. Complan retaliated fiercely by taking Horlicks hands down. Horlicks had to stop but Complan, with deep pockets, continued its counter-communication for a long.

Dirty marketing do exist in corporate world. But, we hear very less about it as this is done undercover and classified. But, have many examples in marketing and advertising world of dirty marketing.

Dirty marketing is an easy way to gain market share and sometimes it pay offs and sometimes it doesn’t.

Most of the time it does pay off when done undercover as it has more deviating effects as discussed above in soft drink case. That lead to the affecting soft drink company to sell of their brand to larger fish.

But, in HUL vs. P&G (Rin vs. Tide), the attacker gained minor market share but for time being. A consumer is not stupid. People out there can understand such tactics.

This article has been authored by Manu Agarwal from SIMSR


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