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  • izzy House

Competition as a marketing strategy

Caption: Graphic designed by Izzy House using images from iStockPhoto

There is nothing quite like a compelling tale of rivalry. The intensive drama as two teams face off in a legendary race to win the medal. We become consumed with the question of who will win. Whether it is the clash between local high school football teams or the epic battle between Coke and Pepsi, this tactic captures attention and engages audiences.

Caption: Chicago: Coca-Cola and Pepsi trucks in Chicago. Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo have long-standing rivalry in soft drink market. Photo: Tupungato on iStockPhoto

An adversary is a vital character in any good story. It is a cornerstone of any tale worth telling. A friendly competition can increase a fan base and provide fodder for content that will be sought out and eagerly consumed.

People love races and battles. It is a major theme of today’s entertainment. Who will get off of the island next or win the baking championship? Sports teams push each other around the field as their fans shout for their favorite side. Even politics is based on a competition of red versus blue. Space is not an exception. It has the legendary race to the moon between the super powers of the United States and Russia.

Caption: NASA — Apollo 17 mission commander Eugene A. Cernan makes a short checkout of the Lunar Roving Vehicle during the early part of the first Apollo 17 extravehicular activity at the Taurus-Littrow landing site.

In 1972, the U.S. visited the moon for the last time. What happened!? One of the reasons for the disappearance of space travel beyond lower earth orbit was that the race between the U.S. and Russian was over. For the U.S. space industry, there was no one to race against as Russia imploded. The story no longer had an adversary that could get the upper hand, so money and attention were moved to the next adversary on the list.

It took several decades before the space industry finally had a new spectacle to watch. Fast forward to the first part of the 2000s. Space began to get interesting again with the rivalry between Jeff Bezzos of Blue Origin and Elon Musk of SpaceX. Their feud over launch pads, patents, and for the race to have the first returnable reusable rocket provided a story that brought the space back into the everyday awareness of the public.

The entire industry grew in the limelight, and a new excitement for space was ignited. Using this tactic can benefit everyone in the industry if the players are likable and conduct themselves with class. Musk and Bezzos have been able to do that … mostly. In reverse, a dirty fight can reflect negatively and can inflict damage to the whole industry (i.e. politics, hedge funds). Classy or not, the adversaries become the industry’s ambassadors representing the personality and ethics of the industry.

When there is an epic battle, the challengers gain attention, but so does the industry. The contenders may get initial attention, but it will cycle through and provide residual benefits for everyone within the sector. When the industry gets attention, it grows. When it grows, so do the opportunities. When the opportunities expand, the companies within it benefit from the new business, including the contenders. The space industry has many new companies as well as countries that has benefited from the awareness of the Musk/Bezzos rivalry.


This tactic requires some caution. It is important that the competition be a fair one. The competitor does not want to come across as a nasty player that swats down the little guy or one that plays dirty. Nobody likes a bully, a cheat, or a liar. It will destroy a brand’s character and make potential customers leery of working with them in the future. Once trust is broken, it is almost impossible to repair. The players must have a sense of good sportsmanship about their game.

Getting too personal

Fans will choose a side that will reflect their personality. If a player is ruthless and cheats, the few fans they get will be those people attracted to that personality. Do you want a customer that is ruthless and cheats? Think carefully about the customer persona that you want to attract. Make sure your brand’s persona embodies the moral character traits that will attract the customers you want to have.

Emotion takes over

Things can get out of hand. The need to win can push a player to act mean and vengeful. Some people hate to lose. If you are using this tactic, you can’t be the only winner. That gets boring. In any sports game, it is the score that fluctuates between leaders in close scores that keep us on the edge of our seats. One minute your team is losing by a few points then pull ahead only to have the other team make the point. Back and forth, each holding the lead for a few minutes. After a close game like that, the fans always say, “That was a great game!” Both sides need to have small wins to keep it interesting.


The conversation must continue. One of the things that kept the race between Bezzos and Musk interesting was the banter between them on social media. The dialogue is part of the entertainment.

Keep it classy and keep it going. An example of classy banter in when Burger King asked Wendy’s to the prom. The witty back and forth twittering found itself the subject of positive press. Good sportsmanship makes people feel good about choosing a side. Which side they choose to support tells the whole world what kind of person that they want to be. It is part of a fan’s identity.

Don’t let the banter get personal. If one side gets upset and doesn’t want to play anymore, then there is no show to watch. Personal attacks can make the other side pull away from the rivalry. If it is possible, talk to them and set some ground rules for each other. And don’t say something bad about their mama.

Make it fun. This is a game. Games are supposed to be fun. The challengers and their fans should have fun with this. Fans have fun when their team challenger engages with them. Amp it up. Fun breeds more fun! Once it ceases to be fun, it will cease to work effectively.

Offer a challenge. Challenge the other team to a competition. This is great drama. Wrestling and boxing has used this strategy to their advantage. Local high schools and universities use rivalries to fill the stands. Bezzos and Musk raced to see who would get to successfully land a reusable rocket and that race ignited the conversation of space travel.


A competition offers an audience something to track that keeps them coming back for more. This activity provides the feeling like they are a part of the event. They keep an eye on the scores and the stats. (Eyes on us… that is what marketing is all about, right?) The challenge gives fans a reason to learn more about something new. Make sure that you are the source of this information.


When conversation is struck at the water cooler, Team A fan wants to prove their team is better when debating with a Team B fan. It makes the audience feel like they are experts and are a part of something bigger. It engages them in a way that paid advertising cannot do, online and offline. They will devour content. Make sure you offer it. What kind of content? Find out by talking to your audience and listening to what they say.


When choosing an opponent for this tactic, it is best to choose someone on the same level. Though we do love a great underdog story, a small company just starting to get into rocket production should not pit themselves against SpaceX unless it has a shot at beating them. It’s more interesting to watch a close game than to watch someone get creamed.

The objective should be the same. It is not much of a race if each team is going in different directions. Choose someone who is striving to get to the same finish line.


Once an audience becomes enamored with the story, they will search for content to consume. The challenge provides a reason for engaging in conversation and provides a reason for content to exist. Content can build suspense and drama while promoting a company or product.

Don’t sell. It is important to make the story the prime message and not make this into a commercial. People are not interested in the hard sell. It will turn them off like a switch and just as fast as you can flip it. They are interested in a sense of connection and exciting entertainment that is interesting.

Give them what they want. Make sure it is content that people want to see, where they want to see it, and when they want to see it.

Talk to your fans. It is important to have conversations with your fans. It makes them feel important. This is one thing that Musk has done well. He has made himself accessible via social media.


This is a great opportunity to combine forces. Other companies can join the party. By providing pictures, posts, videos, and verbiage to your colleagues, they can make the story bigger and increase the epic-ness of the message.

A company’s employees can have fun with it. They are your direct teammates. Encourage their participation.


Generate excitement with the challenge. Create mini-competitions with your fans like a rocket building competition for kids. Create t-shirts that a fan will wear with pride. (please don’t create anything ugly or cheap looking) Colors and phrases can identify a fan such as the Occupy Mars tee-shirt that Musk has for SpaceX.


Creating a competition is not be a strategy for every company. If this can work for you, then a friendly competition can benefit both of the challengers and the industry as a whole.

People love a good saga and want to be a part of the story. In a rivalry like the one between Bezzos and Musk, it doesn’t matter who wins, because we all do.


Izzy House has coined the phrase Interrelational marketing and represents her point-of-view in matters of marketing. This article is also published on LinkedIn and Medium.

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