It pays to be nice to your competitor brands on social media, study finds

Newswise – The brand’s competitors aren’t known for being nice to each other. Think of the legendary “ad wars” between Coke and Pepsi, Avis and Hertz, or McDonalds and Burger King.

But what if brands played well with each other on social media? A group of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Duke University wondered after noticing tweets from Xbox and PlayStation congratulating Nintendo on new product launches.

In a study that’s been buzzing among marketers, researchers conducted nearly a dozen experiments that show that when a brand compliments a competitor on social media, it boosts their reputation as well as their sales.

The benefits go to the praising brand, but it doesn’t affect the brand on the receiving end, said Katherine Du, one of the co-authors from the Lubar School of Business at UW-Milwaukee.

In one of the experiments included in the study, participants received one of two fictional tweets: one in which Kit Kat complimented a top competitor, Twix (“@twix, competitor or not, congratulations on your 54 years in business! Even we can admit – Twix are delicious”). In the other tweet, Kit Kat only mentioned her own product (“Start your day with a treat!”).

After 11 days, participants reported buying candy since the study ended. Those who saw the free Kit Kat tweet bought this brand 34% more frequently than those who saw the self-promoting Kit Kat tweet. Sales of Twix did not increase, even though Kit Kat called Twix delicious.

The strategy works for the renter because consumers’ opinions of brands are based on two dimensions — warmth and competence, said Du, who conducted the study with Lingrui Zhou and Keisha Cutright at Duke University.

“Warmth is one of the number one things we judge a brand on — and how we judge others too,” she said. “Our contribution was to examine how brands can interact to create this perception. But it’s important that the praising brand initiates the interaction and comes across as authentic.

Why doesn’t it work for the brand being rented?

“We believe this is because consumers recognize that this is an uncommon and potentially risky action for the praise brand, given that there is no obvious benefit to them,” said Zhou, a PhD student at Duke.

Zhou added that brand-to-brand praise works best for organizations that aren’t traditionally viewed as warm or caring. Among consumers, the most skeptical are those who have felt the most effect.

“Skeptical consumers don’t trust brands very much to begin with,” she said. “And so when they see this type of interaction, it disarms them and allows them to change their perception of the brand that’s being praised.”

The study, published earlier this year in the Journal of Marketing, included about 4,000 participants and a collection of tens of thousands of real tweets.

To suggest that marketers can profit by drawing positive attention to competitors is still a radical idea, Du said.

“It’s been an uphill battle for us to get people in marketing to believe that this brand-to-brand praise works,” she said. “That’s why there’s so much data in this study because the burden of evidence was really high.”

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