Devil's Advocate - Peer Pleasure

Robert Joseph looks at evidence suggesting that praising one's competitors may make good business sense.

Reading time: 1m 55s

Robert Joseph - the Devil's Advocate
Robert Joseph - the Devil's Advocate

When did you last hear a politician say anything positive about a rival? Or a business publicly praise a competitor?

The answer may well be ‘not recently enough’.

In 2021 three researchers, Cutright, Zhou and Du, at Duke University in the US conducted a set of studies into the effect of ‘Brand-to-Brand Praise’ or, more succinctly, ‘Befriending the Enemy’. 

"Even we can admit - Twix are delicious.”

Two sets of consumers were shown tweets from the chocolate bar, Kit Kat. One group – the control – saw a post that simply stated “Start your day off with a tasty treat!”, while the other got to see “@twix, Competitor or not, congrats on your 54 years in business! Even we can admit - Twix are delicious”.

Eleven days later when they were asked about their purchases, the participants who’d seen the ‘praising’ tweet, were found to be 34% more likely to buy Kit Kat than the control group. Interestingly, despite the endorsement, Twix enjoyed no boost in sales.

As marketer Thomas McKinlay of Ariyh revealed in a post earlier this year, this is only one example of a growing body of research to support the idea that giving credit to one’s peers can actually yield dividends.

McKinlay references a 2016 study by Nicoletta Cavazza of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia that compared the effect of a fictitious political candidate making a speech in which they did or did not flatter an opponent. Flattery, it seems influenced the likelihood of the audience trusting and then voting for the politician. 

Confidence and Generosity

There are two very understandable explanations for this effect. Essentially, the praiser is demonstrating the attractive human traits of confidence and generosity.

If we extend the model to wine, where competitors may come in a number of forms, there might be another benefit: by talking about a range of other wines, praisers could build a rapport with potential customers whose tastes they share. Bordeaux chateau owners have a long history of implicitly recommending the big Champagne houses whose bubbles they serve to their guests, but today the clever wine producer in any region might be better off selecting a grower-Champagne or even – if they can find one they genuinely enjoy – a Pet Nat. A Burgundy grower could recommend a producer in the next village or, to show how much more open-minded they are than their parents, an example from Otago or Oregon.

Or Choosing the Donald Trump Approach?

Of course, there are those, such as top entrepreneur and Huffpost contributor Neil Patel who, as McKinlay points out, disagree. “Even mentioning your competition is a bad idea.” Patel says. “Before you mentioned Competitor A, the customer may not have known about the competition [and/or] may not have thought about the competition.”

For those who favour this approach, it’s worth noting that, for Patel, the only thing worse than mentioning or comparing your product with another producer’s, is to badmouth them. So, taking a Donald Trump-like approach to your neighbours and their wines is absolutely not recommended.

Of course, the advantage of living and working in 2022 is that anyone who is tempted or intrigued, can use social media to test this model for themselves.

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