The following is a guest post from digital agency PMG's Erica Aveard, SEM coordinator, and Katie Friedman, senior social account manager.
History is built on feuds. The Hatfields and McCoys fought for land and honor, the Bolsheviks eliminated the entire Romanov family over politics, and Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton following a long and bitter rivalry. Rivalries are part of the "hero's journey" archetype that we see play out in all genres of entertainment. The entire "Harry Potter" series is based on the Harry vs. Voldemort showdowns. "Game of Thrones" has countless standoffs, which are at play in nearly every frame of the show. This type of story has unlimited possibilities for the who, what, where, when and why.
It makes sense, then, that people would find a way to make money off this familiarity. Before the global connectivity of social media, rappers would use albums to start or settle feuds. Today, most rivalries take place in public over social media and fewer people lose their lives. Nowadays, the biggest casualty is more likely the death of a career.
Monetizing a feud
Magazines have been using their covers to perpetuate feuds for decades. They can cover all angles, from love triangles and sibling rivalries to reality TV and political drama. Human relationships and rivalries became such a moneymaker that it morphed into shows like "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" which still enjoys a cult following. That show pokes people like Taylor Swift who keeps making music about the feud. Swift, meanwhile, is also known to stir the pot leading up to a big album release. The cycle repeats every few years or so, leading to a lucrative business model for both parties.
Because of this fascination that so clearly plays out in public, celebrities have started to use fake feuds to their advantage. Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman have a faux feud manufactured to sell gin (for Reynolds) and coffee (for Jackman). Jimmy Kimmel and Matt Damon have a rivalry, maybe only designed for laughs but probably for exposure too.
Marketing a feud
Brands also have feuds, both real and manufactured by marketing teams. Battles of the brands are nothing new — as far back as the Great Depression, Pepsi outwardly marketed a larger bottle of soda for the same price as a Coca-Cola. These "Cola Wars" raged on ever since, with both brands taking to experiential marketing and social media showdowns for chances to one-up the other. The Marvel vs. DC comparison has spread across multiple verticals from TV programming, merchandise sales and box office numbers. DC comics was the first to celebrate when Marvel nearly went bankrupt in the mid-1990s, and now Marvel is back on top, riding out "Avengers" momentum with a final installment.
Most recently, feuds have become a go-to marketing strategy for fast food companies looking for their voice on social media. Wendy's had a media comeback when it started clapping back at other fast food brands on Twitter, and Burger King introduced experiential media, incorporating virtual reality into their marketing strategy, encouraging participants to "burn" other burger chains. In recent years, Taco Bell started hopping onto Twitter threads to close them with a final diss.
When the tweets are as broken as the ice cream machine. https://t.co/esdndK1iFm— Wendy's (@Wendys) November 24, 2017
The 'science' of a feud
The pace at which we digest content moves the conversation along too quickly for deep reflection on feudal barbs. Sites like Buzzfeed are able to aggregate content in a format that humanizes brands by showing a dialogue, which lets us appreciate how hard these marketing teams work. But before you start up a feud with one of your competitors, consider these tips:
Your brand needs to have a bold and independent identity
It takes a certain personality to poke a competitor on social media. If you're willing to start a feud, you better be willing to deal with other brands trying to start one with you!
Your brand should have a clear voice
It should be a personable voice — it will humanize your interactions and give your comebacks more bite.
Your team must have the ability to pivot on social quickly
If you have to take time to get post approval, it will hinder your ability to quickly clap back to challenges made by the other brand. Banter is key.
The showdown of good versus bad, families fighting families, chaos versus lawfulness is nothing new. These rivalries engage us and push us to choose one side over another. There's a reason that NFL games draw in so many viewers every year — consumers love a good smackdown. If you feel comfortable that you have the company structure and resources at the ready for a feud, there's nothing stopping you from trying your hand at one. Taking the risk has large rewards and the potential for explosive media attention, while the worst that can happen is a hit to your brand's ego. Until you try, you never know: You could be the Harry to your competitors' Voldemort.