Have you ever been in a situation where a competitor has tried to muscle their way into your client-base, or insulted your team? A little friendly competition is good for the marketplace, but mean-spirited personal attacks can turn a battle for market-share into a mud-slinging contest. Whenever I find myself tempted to respond to personal attacks with my own barrage of cheap-shots, I remember one of George Bernard Shaw's sayings: "Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it."
On the internet, it's all too easy to damage someone's character and reputation. A quick Yelp review or Amazon product review is pretty easy to create, even if it's completely false. Consider the fact that 20% of Yelp reviews are fake, and some reports estimate that 30% of online reviewers are compensated for their glowing (or false, hurtful) reviews. Thankfully there's machine learning to help companies fight the trend of online review services spamming e-commerce sites.
1. False, Negative Reviews of the Competition Could Become Legal Liabilities
In addition to the technology coming online to fend off spam reviews, a recent article courtesy of Rebootonline.com states that "...it's only a matter of time before more Firms go into Internet Law and start dealing with malicious negative reviews more seriously." When false claims are made online that personally disparage an individual or business, there can be serious legal consequences. The same article points to a recent legal battle in the UK that resulted in an SEO analyst being fined £10,220 and serving time in prison for slandering a property surveyor; including false claims posted online that the individual was a pedophile.
The internet is a mean place and personal grievances can bring out the worst in human behavior. Don't make the mistake of allowing your company to engage in false, negative attacks against the competition. It's far wiser to invest your limited resources in building your brand up, versus tearing down an opponent.
2. Learn a Lesson from Negative Political Ad-Campaigns and Stay Away from Negative Advertising
While outright lies and slander online are definitely off-limits from a legal standpoint, it might be tempting to negatively attack a competitor in an ad-campaign based off honest criticism. But, a 2012 article published in the Fiscal Times provides evidence that negative campaigning is rarely effective. While it plays well with an audience that already has a positive image of your brand, it is ineffective at converting new customers.
Instead, negative ad-campaigns simply invite a cycle of increasingly vicious attacks and counter-punches. The gains made in an initial ad are quickly lost when the competition responds by poking holes in your reputation. So why do political campaigns engage in these vicious marketing battles? They aren't looking to sell a product; they're looking to increase voter turnout within their base of support. They don't need long-term loyalty; they simply need an individual to show up at a polling location on election day.
If you want your business to thrive in the long-run, sell prospective customers on the value of your product or service. Don't insult their prior decision to do business with a competitor. Instead, encourage them to consider other options and take advantage of new opportunities.
3. Negative Advertising Focuses Attention on the Competitor
Ad-campaigns cost money, and a lot of it in some cases. You can expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a television campaign. Magazine advertisements can cost thousands of dollars. Thankfully advertising online can be a bit more cost-effective; with pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns you'll only come out of pocket for the actual traffic an ad generates to your site. But, the total budget (production plus distribution) for an effective PPC campaign can still run upwards of $4,000-$10,000; the average PPC rate coming out to $0.84 per click.
If you're spending thousands of dollars, why in the world would you want to give your competitor the exposure you're paying for? Even if you mention a competitor in a negative light, you're still giving the business entity free name recognition. There's such a thing as exposure effect. The more you hear a name or brand, the more you begin to have positive attachment to the brand or organization. A customer is far more likely to do business with a brand they've previously heard mentioned hundreds of times, versus a company that they're completely unfamiliar with.
Don't make the mistake of getting down in the mud and wrestling with the pigs. No matter how it ends, the actual fight will involve giving air-time to your competitors. Plus, you're wasting resources that could have been spent adding value to your product or service. If you want long-term customer loyalty, you have to sell on value instead of smearing your competition. When you add in the potential legal consequences, negative advertising online just isn't worth the time and effort.