Product and Company Attack Ads – The Next Big Thing?

Unlike political attack ads, negative product or company ads might just be kind of fun...

Fast Company's competitors produce boring drivel for a double digit IQ crowd and besides, their editorial staffs do not bathe regularly. Oops, sorry, readers—got a little ahead of myself ...

Annoying. No, appalling—that's what the recent non-stop tsunami of political attack ads were. Early estimates (my own) are that over $7 trillion was spent in the last three months on negative attack ads in national, state and local elections. There were insults, affronts, invectives, defamations, borderline slanders, verbal assaults and smears of all sorts. Not much about what the candidates stood for, but plenty about what slimeballs their opponents were. It was a sleaze fest of enormous proportions.

As much as the American public despises political attack ads, the reason we see more of them with every election is because research has shown they are effective at influencing our voting behavior. It's true. So I don't think it's much of a stretch to predict that the next frontier for negative attack ads will be those targeting services, products, even companies themselves.

In fact, the bellicosity has already begun in a high profile way. Just in the last month, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has several times publicly trash-talked HP and its Board and Steve Jobs has dissed and dismissed the RIMS Blackberry device, Adobe's Flash and the Samsung 7 inch tablet. And since those two CEOs are seen by many as agenda definers and trend setters, could we be seeing what will become the new normal in negative advertising and marketing?

Product advertising has traditionally focused on features and benefits. But in this wired age, that's so antediluvian. So boring. We can get all the facts and figures we need about something with just a few clicks to company or product web sites. Image and lifestyle advertising has also been a popular way to push products (think Chanel or the Pepsi Generation thing). But even that is passé. It's just too subtle.

Today, we are the titillation nation. We have Jerry Springer; Saw movies; Ultimate Fighting; the decline of civility; unreal "reality" programming; disrespect as an art form. The gloves come off with the political negative ads. Now they're coming off in the battle for the hearts and minds of the consumer. It ain't gonna be pretty, but it just might be kind of fun.

Here are some examples of product attack ads we might soon see on TV or on our smart phones. Would they get your attention?

* "We at Ultra Burger use absolutely no rats in our hamburgers. Funny that you never hear Burger Bob's make that claim

Or how about a dandy like the following?

* "Our cars are way better than Mega-Motors' gas guzzling clunkers. And our accelerator pedals don't stick, so why would you even consider one of their losermobiles?"

It's a crescendo of innuendo and if you are a lawyer specializing in libel law, you've just had all of your wildest dreams come true. And those warnings at the end of medication ads you hear or read about? They will make for marvelous attack ads. For instance ...

* "The ads for our competitor's product - Zemophil —warn about risks of excessive bleeding or even death. We think it took courage to admit to such a dangerous product. Your health is too important to gamble, so try our brand instead

As repugnant as the political ads were, I think the American public will embrace the snarkiness of product and company attack ads as long as they don't get too vicious or tasteless. Insults and phony inferences are fair game, but we don't want the Jackass crowd to invade Madison Avenue.

As for Fast Company's competitors referenced at the top of this piece, it's time to decrease the blather and to increase the lather. Your print edition is a waste of trees and your on-line edition is a waste of electrons.

See how much fun this negative marketing thing can be?

Mike Hoban is a senior consultant for a global talent management consulting firm and can be contacted at

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