When you can’t Brand, Counter-Brand

Want to make a radio station (or format) that stands out?

Take this advice from Roy Williams, the “Wizard of Ads”: Counter-brand.

What “Un-Cola” is to Cola a “counter-brand” is to a brand.

Here are the steps:

1. List the attributes of the master brand 2. Create a brand with precisely the opposite attributes 3. Without using the brand name of your competitor, refer to yourself as the direct opposite of the master brand.

If this sounds like the strategy used by a little format called JACK, that’s no accident.

This should also serve to remind you, however, that once a brand has its opposite, you can’t keep copying that opposite within the same market. In other words, just because the JACK-style elements are working for that format doesn’t necessarily mean they can work for all format – especially if there’s already a JACK in town.

Thus I would add my own rule as this postscript:

Each brand can have only one successful counter-brand in any given market.

Williams goes on to provide an example of how this would sound on the Radio for a franchised competitor to Starbucks:

“Most people think to get a fast cup of coffee you have to settle for fast-food coffee …or worse…convenience store coffee. And to get a good cup of coffee you have to stand in line for 20 minutes at some snooty coffeehouse where things can’t just be medium and large, but have to be ‘Grande’ and ‘Venti.’ At JoToGo we serve really good coffee, really fast. We’re the original drive-thru espresso bar serving all your favorite premium coffee drinks at lightning speed. So when you’re on the go, get a JoToGo. No snooty attitude here, just fabulous coffee fast”

In my view this strategy has only one potential flaw: It expresses a customer anxiety that may not exist.

I don’t know about you but the folks who work at my local Starbucks are cheery and friendly as can be. In fact, many of them know me and my drink by name. This is hardly a “snooty attitude” and the suggestion that it is is rather offensive.

Watch your words. They can backfire.

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