Second Place Is A First-Rate Strategy

With almost 20 years in this business, it’s not that often that I come across a TV commercial that actually gets me excited, but Classico’s pasta sauce competition commercial has done it. It’s not because of the creativity or the out-of-the-box thinking, but because of the strategy! The commercial establishes a pasta sauce competition, the opponents being a group of Italian “Nonnas” and Classico pasta sauce chefs. When the winners are announced, the Italian Nonnas take home the gold, while the Classico group stands cheering. It ends with a voiceover that says:

“Homemade pasta sauce will always win, but with inspiration from the regions of Italy, we’re a close second.”

WOW! I wasn’t expecting that ending! And that is why the commercial is so effective. The commercial has the ad sponsor, Classico, celebrating the fact they didn’t win a pasta sauce competition, and promoting the fact that their brand was, indeed, second place in the pasta sauce game.

Brands usually don’t take this type of risk by admitting defeat, but by doing the unexpected and taking this risk, and creating a strategic approach, it’s a win-win.

Classico hasn’t created a major marketing campaign for over 10 years, so this ad needed to create some serious dialogue. After conducting some market research, Classico found that their consumers frequently make homemade pasta sauce on the weekend and believe that a store-bought pasta sauce will never live up to something made from scratch. They also found that; while their consumers appreciate homemade sauce more, “for those nights when they want to deliver a great meal, but don’t have a lot of time, they want a high quality pasta sauce alternative.”

Knowing this, Classico launched their “Second only to yours” campaign. Admitting their sauce will never beat a delicious homemade sauce appeals to consumers looking for brand honesty, and as I discussed in last week’s blog, honesty is key in a marketing campaign. Classico knows their consumers value high quality sauce, so by informing them that while they are not going to beat their homemade version, they are still a close second, appealing to this busy target market.

In 1962, this strategy was also met with great success when Avis embraced their second-place status as a way to hype the brand’s customer service with the tagline, “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder.” They retired the slogan last year after finally slipping into third place behind Hertz, 50 years after the tag line was created.

As we can see, this risky strategy worked well for both companies. Classico’s ad has now become a viral video, and Avis produced a popular slogan that was used for half a century. However, if everyone started a marketing campaign claiming they were number two, we might be in trouble. These two case studies are great examples of how well-researched marketing strategies can go against the grain and pay off big time.

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