Gillette, PR and the challenger brand


Gillette is having a spot of bother of late. Squeaky clean brand ambassador Thierry Henry is a handball cheat and there are accusations that Tiger Woods is up to no good too. That just leaves Roger Federer from the triumvirate to soil his reputation and the clean cut trio will be no more.

Of more interest to me, however, is another little row between Gillette and The King of Shaves. See link below.

Now, non-PR people will be wondering what all the fuss is about, but for me this row is more relevant because it shows how not to handle a challenger brand like The King of Shaves.

A challenger brand is a small yet growing entry in a market. Usually gobby, outspoken and exciting. There is lots of research on challengers which you can find by a simple Google search.

Handling the PR for a challenger brand is exciting because the communications team can take their message out into the market while punching and kicking at the competition.

The golden rule when dealing with the noise coming from a competing challenger brand is, don’t engage them in a media row. A challenger brand wants publicity. It is trying to divert brand traffic (search results, eyeballs of customers, sales) away from the leader by fighting it publicly and vigorously.

Half the battle of PR is knowing when to say nothing. Really a category leader should use its scale and drive communications based on messages linked to. Brand messages such as quality and innovation, publicly ignoring that pesky annoyance, while behind the scenes using all its might to protect the market.

So I was surprised to see Gillette engaging King of Shaves in this way.

The other side of the story is looking at when challengers become the big brand and established player. Just look at Ryanair for example. It is still behaving like a challenger brand, making all the noise through its combative CEO. The problem is that I believe Ryanair has reached a tipping point and it is starting to annoy its customers. As the market leader it needs to shift towards a new communication platform.

The skill with challenger brands is understanding what to do when faced by one. On the other side of the coin, the talent is knowing when you are no longer challenging and you have become top dog.

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