PT Barnum famously observed, “All publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right.”
We’ve witnessed the fundamental truth of this adage just last week. Those of you who watched the Super Bowl probably took note of the Bud Light commercial extolling its virtue for not using corn syrup in its formulation. Bud Light — long famous for its creative Super Bowl ads — took it a step further: it pointed out, by name, rival companies that do use corn syrup, specifically Miller Lite and our home-brewed Coors Light.
Despite comparative advertising being legal, calling out a rival brand by name still feels unsportsmanlike. Aside from that, it may not even be a smart tactic — as Bud Light is experiencing this week — because the comparison drawn may not be the comparison the company expects, or wants.
The Bud Light commercial had three fallouts, none of which were probably to Bud Light’s benefit.
First, it gave consumers the opportunity to review all three products, and many on social media were poking fun at Bud Light, asking if its lack of corn syrup explained its lack of flavor.
Second, it alienated consumers affiliated with agriculture who took it as a slight against corn — an economically and politically important US staple.
Third — and here’s where PT Barnum comes in — it gave Miller and Coors an opportunity to talk about their own product, and boy did they utilize it.
Bud Light — hoisted by its own petard . . . or, by PT Barnum’s.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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