“Positioning” may have been the advertising buzzword of the 1970’s, but “marketing warfare” will be the term for the 1980’s, according to Al Ries, chairman of Trout & Ries, New York. In militaristic terms and by using the great wars of history as examples, Ries outlined how companies, once positioned, should then wage their marketing battles, according to an article published in Ad Week.

The principles of defensive, offensive, flanking and guerilla warfare make up the scenario, he said in a speech at the recent Automotive News World Congress.

General Motors, which has a 65 percent share of the nation’s market, he said, should wage defensive marketing warfare, the only role for a marketing leader. The best defensive strategy, he said, is the courage to attack yourself. GM has already displayed knowledge of that strategy be its move to downsize its cars – in effect, cannibalizing its larger products.

Western Union also displayed good handling of defensive strategy when it came out with the “mailgram” which it advertised against its principal product, the telegram, with the phrase, “The impact of a telegram at a fraction of the cost,” Ries noted.

Offensive marketing warfare involves concentrating on the one weakness in the leader’s strength and attacking that point, said Ries. American Motors Corp., which currently has approximately two percent of the domestic market, used effective offensive strategy when it came up with the extended warranty plan, said Ries.

Seven-up missed an opportunity to capitalize on a successful offensive strategy, Ries said. The product should have attacked the cola leaders on the basis that 7-UP has no caffeine, he noted. Instead, 7-Up “does what too many people do…advertise their aspirations,” said Ries.

The important aspect of flanking warfare is the element of surprise, said Ries. Test marketing is sometimes the wrong avenue to take because it lets the leader know what the surprise is, he added. Volkswagen successfully used flanking warfare to sell its cars in the U.S. immediately after World War II by advertising that the car had everything that was a direct opposite of GM’s cars – rear engined, small, and ugly, air-cooled – explained Ries.

VW made a fatal mistake when it began expanding its line of cars, he added. VW’s mistake, he said, was that it failed to keep its forces concentrated in one mass. After the company had won its initial battle, it should have defended its position, said Ries.

“Success,” he added, “is what usually kills most companies.” VW, which at one point had 67 percent of the import market in this country, now has only an approximate 12 percent share, said Ries. By not concentrating its forces after the flanking attack, VW left wide-open the avenues of entry for the Japanese imports.

Rolls-Royce, said Ries, is an example of guerilla marketing warfare, which involves finding a segment of the market small enough to defend. The most important aspect of guerilla warfare is that “no matter how successful you become, never act like a leader,” he said. “Keep your flexibility (and) be ready to bug-out at a moment’s notice.”

Echoing the automakers and marketers renewed commitments to long-term planning, Ries added, “Advertising is a long-term phenomenon. People who are using its short-term are making a tactical mistake.”

Penny Ohlmann Neimann

Penny Ohlmann Neimann

The Ohlmann Group has a rich history that began in Dayton, Ohio in 1949, where the agency was founded as Penny and Penny by Bob Penny and his wife Jean. In 1964, Walter Ohlmann joined the firm. Ralph Neiman came on in 1969 and the firm became Penny/Ohlmann/Neiman. In 2011, P/O/N was renamed The Ohlmann Group to better reflect the agency's ongoing evolution and collaborative nature.

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