Art & Commerce: Rebel Yell

Need a strategy? Antagonize, antagonize, antagonize
If a brand strategy is weak or irrelevant, the ensuing creative work will most likely be the same. All over the world, marketing people find it difficult to “come up” with something that will make a difference and they have trouble accepting that marketing is about change. Marketing texts, conferences, research, etc. offer plenty of advice; unfortunately, this information is also available to the other guys.
But there is another way: Find a worthy target and antagonize it. This method has worked for some successful challengers: MCI vs. AT&T, Dell vs. the computer industry and Fox vs. the Big Three networks.
Antagonism is not for everyone, though. If you are the category leader or your corporate culture is genteel, don’t do it. If your aspirations are to own a large piece of a market, get there quickly (and relatively cheaply) and possess a strong character, antagonism may work for you. The market leader often defines the market. Are you happy playing by your opponent’s rules?
Consider this: Existing beliefs in a category might be boring to a new wave of consumers, begging for a challenge or no longer true or relevant. Attacking these beliefs can be fresh, arresting and differentiating, and usurping existing behaviors may deliver important values to your brand, such as new and better segment identification. For instance, the antagonistic approach can bring in new customers who are waiting for “their” version and win back the “lapsed” who have lost faith with the current situation. Best of all, you don’t have to build your strategy from scratch and this method is easy to communicate to creative departments and clients.
Antagonism is also immensely efficient. You are immediately in the market, and because you’re utilizing your opponent’s strategy, your message is already out there. For example, AT&T spends its ad dollars pitching family phone service to keep people close. MCI shows up and says that’s good and we’ll do it for less. McDonald’s makes a quick hamburger, but Burger King’s is fast, like McDonald’s, and cooked to the consumer’s taste. Virgin flies transatlantic routes, like British Airways, but the “fun” airline offers itself as a youthful contrast to stuffy BA. In short, use your rival’s size against it.
The emerging antagonistic strategy should not be a superficial gesture or a onetime event–it’s a rich vein. Mined properly, it can be the soul of a brand. Before committing to antagonism, make sure you’ll stick with it, make sure your difference is believable and make sure there’s a call for “revolt” in your market.
In this age of rapid results and the latest thing, antagonism may be the quickest way from A to B. If doubts remain over the use of this approach, play this game: Take a huge brand, study its dimensions, then identify all of the opposite arguments. There may well be many blocks for building a strong brand character. It isn’t the only option, but if standard methods are failing, well antagonize the hell out of somebody. K