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Befriending the Enemy: The Effects of Observing Brand-to-Brand Praise on Consumer Evaluations and Choices

Befriending the Enemy: The Effects of Observing Brand-to-Brand Praise on Consumer Evaluations and Choices

Lingrui Zhou, Katherine M. Du and Keisha M. Cutright

The day Nintendo launched the Switch gaming system, both Xbox and PlayStation made a surprising move: They publicly congratulated Nintendo on Twitter. Brands typically avoid complimenting their competitors because they do not want to offer a rival brand free publicity. However, the response to this was positive. The posts generated a significant number of likes and retweets for Xbox and PlayStation. In fact, these compliments, on average, generated over ten times more likes and retweets for the brands than their usual content. 

A new Journal of Marketing study explores what happens when brands communicate positively toward their competitors. Our research team ran nearly a dozen experiments that show that a brand that compliments a competitor ends up boosting its own reputation and sales.

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In our initial experiments, we compared a brand complimenting a competitor, which we term “brand-to-brand praise,” to traditional brand communication, such as self-promotional messages or informative content. We discovered that brand-to-brand praise indeed boosts preferences for the praiser brand. In one particular experiment, we showed half of the participants a fictitious tweet in which Kit Kat complimented a top competitor, Twix (“@twix, Competitor or not, congrats on your 54 years in business! Even we can admit – Twix are delicious”). We showed the other half of participants a tweet in which Kit Kat mentioned its own products (“Start your day off with a tasty treat!”). After 11 days, we asked participants to report any candy purchases since the time they completed the study. Those who saw the tweet in which Kit Kat praised Twix purchased Kit Kat 34% more frequently compared to those who saw the tweet from Kit Kat about its own product. Importantly, we found that Twix sales did not increase, even after Kit Kat called Twix delicious. 

Next, we sought to better understand why brand-to-brand praise led to more positive consequences for the praiser. Through our subsequent studies, we found that the brand was viewed as “warmer,” meaning it was perceived as more friendly and trustworthy, after complimenting a competitor. It is this warmth that drives the favorable outcomes for the praiser—outcomes that include greater brand engagement and higher sales. 

We also uncovered when brand-to-brand praise is most effective. We found that there are certain types of consumers and certain types of brands that are most likely to benefit. With respect to consumers, we found that skeptical consumers actually respond most positively to brand praise.

When consumers read a tweet from Lyft that praised rival company Uber (“@Uber Congratulations on all your achievements this past year!”), skeptical consumers showed the greatest increase in attitudes toward the praiser, seemingly disarmed by the praise. With respect to brands, we found that brand-to-brand praise has the largest effect for organizations that are not traditionally seen as warm or caring, such as for-profit brands. 

Lastly, we found that praising a competitor will only be effective when done in an authentic manner. Praise that appears disingenuous or is not perceived as risky will not be accepted as a meaningful indicator of warmth. In one experiment, we demonstrated that when observing praise towards a non-competitor brand (in particular, an eyewear brand complimenting a hamburger brand, which would not be viewed as a risky behavior), consumers did not form more positive evaluations of praiser. 

While praising the competition seems to go against conventional wisdom, our research shows that it can result in many favorable outcomes for the praiser brand. Given the rise of social media in the digital age, brands can now easily communicate with each other and be observed by consumers. Managers may wish to capitalize on this opportunity by utilizing brand-to-brand praise as a way to foster a warmer brand image and produce more positive downstream consequences. 

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From: Lingrui Zhou, Katherine Du, and Keisha Cutright, “Befriending the Enemy: The Effects of Observing Brand-to-Brand Praise on Consumer Evaluations and Choices,” Journal of Marketing.

Go to the Journal of Marketing

Lingrui Zhou is a doctoral candidate, Duke University, USA.

Katherine M. Du is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, USA.

Keisha M. Cutright is Associate Professor, Duke University, USA.