Positive advertising: a quick case study of Comcast vs Qwest

Comcast and Qwest/Century Link are their own worst enemies. Alone, each is already known for their startlingly poor reputations. Pitted against each other, they only make it worse.

One of the first things you learn in the advertising profession is to avoid negative advertising. You don’t talk poorly about your competitors. In fact, you essentially pretend they do not exist, because when someone is reading your ad there is no competition. If you’ve done your ad right, all attention is on you.

When you mention your competitor in a negative light, you do two things, both bad. 1) You use your valuable ad space to bring your competitor to the awareness of your audience, and 2) You undermine the very trust your ad should be instilling by making yourself look petty and underhanded.

Comcast and Qwest/Century Link have been slinging mud at each other in print, direct mail, and online advertising for months now. Ever since Qwest announced it had sold to Century Link, Comcast started the mud-slinging. Their direct mail letter headlined with, “You shouldn’t be forced to switch to a phone company you didn’t even choose,” a statement which has no intrinsic meaning or value in the context of business since the customer would inherently choose Century Link if they, like Qwest, were the only land line phone company in town.

Qwest did the polar opposite of the right thing — which would have been to ignore the negativity — and began their own campaign of negative advertising. Their online ads now headline with, “Don’t put up with cable rate hikes,” an unnecessary jab at Comcast which is misleading if not totally incorrect. (Cable phone stays the same price, and cable internet bounces all over the board, lacking consistency in either direction. One month it’s $25, the next $65, the one after $35.)

Both Comcast and Qwest are doing nothing with these headlines but taking pot shots at each other. They are both known for their awful reputations (see the Comcast Must Die site), and these negative ads only serve to drag them down even further. The likely result: more people will switch to cell phones with 4G data plans. Neither Qwest nor Comcast win the war. They just look (even more) like losers.

Once a consumer knows that you’re willing to sling mud in the face of your competition, they can rightfully judge that you’ll do the same thing to them. It’s a character thing. If you treat a competitor with such disrespect, it is not a leap to realize that it’s even easier for you to treat individuals (a.k.a. customers) the same way.

When you plan your next ad campaign, don’t do what Comcast and Qwest did. Create a positive advertising campaign that touts your merits, keeps it real, and shows how you respect people. Keep your ad messaging positive, and you can win respect, trust and the all-important business without ever having to get your hands dirty.

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

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