How not to talk about yourself being number two

How not to talk about yourself being number two

There’s a strange TV ad airing at the moment which is ringing behavioural alarm bells. Here’s why.

Ford is offering a deal where they will pay you $200 if after you’ve test-driven one of their cars you go on to buy a car from a competitor. Ford is effectively putting its money on the line in an attempt to convince you its cars are better.

What I am concerned about is the scripting of the TV ad that starts with an image of competitor Toyota’s vehicle driving out of a dealership and the Ford spokesperson saying, “This is Australia’s biggest selling truck…” She then goes on to say that that’s not the car she sells and she thinks Fords are better. Later in the ad the graphic and voiceover reiterates this message with, “Who says biggest selling is always best.”

Well, most of us. And that’s the problem.

Ford is clearly attempting to challenge the assumption that the most popular vehicles are best. Trouble is, when in doubt, social norms are what we rely on to make a decision because the risk of getting it wrong is smaller.

By so blatantly talking about the competitors having the best-selling vehicles, Ford is undermining its objective of re-engaging people in its product. They are telling us that the herd takes its business elsewhere.

Contrast Ford’s approach with the famous Avis “We are only #2 so We try harder” campaign that acknowledged it was not the most popular car rental company, but used that to its advantage by convincing customers it meant they got a better deal.

More recently iiNet also got in on the action, proudly proclaiming themselves the “number 2” DSL broadband provider. In this case they were challenging the assumption they were a small operator, reframing themselves alongside Telstra and leveraging their emergence as the most popular alternative.

So the lesson for those who are not number one in their market is to be very careful with how you talk about your position. Both Avis and iiNet used their position to strategic advantage, where Ford seems to have opted for a cheap trick to attract that small percentage of buyers for whom $200 on a $26,000 purchase is attractive.

Instead Ford would have been better to play up the problems of herd behaviour – following the sheep – and tapped into our inherent desire to be unique. Jeep have gone down this “I’m my own person” path a bit with their “Don’t Hold Back” ads, showing the buyer making their own decision and being admired for it.

And finally, two other issues might compromise Ford’s ability to convert customers:

  • Rewarding customers for buying a competitive car will negate any natural remorse they may have felt in making the decision.
  • Customers can claim the payment online without any need to interact with a Ford representative, reducing any tension around being ‘disloyal’.

If you’ve spotted any interesting ads on which you’d like a behavioural option just get in touch.

You can watch the Ford TV ad here.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.


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