Poke the Bear To Steal Share from Market Leaders

Poke the Bear To Steal Share from Market Leaders

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By: Jake McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer & Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist

Brands often find themselves in a position where they aren’t the leader in their category. In that case, it’s worthwhile considering ways to “poke the bear.”

In the “poke the bear” analogy, the bear is typically whoever is dominant within your category. These are the brands who are more likely to be on the top of people’s minds, so it’s important to come up with creative ways to “poke” at your competitor to help elevate your brand. 

There have been some great examples of this. One of our favorites was from a few decades ago when Apple wanted to poke the bear. The bears, in their case, were Microsoft and IBM, who dominated the computer space at the time. So, Apple launched an iconic super bowl ad attacking these two companies and celebrating the power of the individual. 

Many are familiar with the ad, but what you may not be as familiar with is that Apple’s now become the bear, and other folks are picking fights with them. For example, Fortnite has decided they’re going to pick a fight with Apple, and they’ve sued them. At the same time, they’re also going after them with their marketing, and they’re using the same tactics that Apple used back when they were poking the bear. 

Another classic example of “poke the bear” goes back to telecommunications in the 80s. You might remember that MCI and AT&T were fighting over customers, and then MCI launched 1-800 collect. They began to do really well, so AT&T responded by launching a 1-800 operator line and started to promote it and assert their brand dominance. Well, MCI decided to “poke the bear” after they realized that a lot of people couldn’t spell operator: they went and registered 1-800 operater. Not only did they get a lot of press buzz, but also every time AT&T launched a big marketing push for a 1-800 operator, MCI would get a small boost through those who dialed the incorrect phone number. 

An example where we poked the bear at Intermark Group comes from our work with Alabama Tourism. When we think of Mardi Gras, we often think of New Orleans, but Mobile, Alabama, actually started celebrating Mardi Gras before New Orleans. We decided to “poke the bear” with a series of ads aimed at promoting Mardi Gras in Mobile with billboards telling drivers they were X number of miles from the original home of Mardi Gras. The billboards were widely talked about and generated controversy online with the mayors of the cities even joining in. The signs and resulting PR generated a lot of buzz for Mardi Gras in Mobile that year, all because people are drawn to conflict and “poking the bear.” 

Interested in learning more about how we can help you use conflict responsibly and differentiate from competitors? Give us a call at 800-624-9239 or email us at [email protected].