Advertising / PR

Wanna punch above your PR weight? Pick a fight with the big guys.

Keep Britain Tidy is a low-key, unassuming, and let’s face it, rather unglamorous charity. For more than fifty years it’s been gently persuading us to do the right thing  – that is, not drop your empty sweet wrappers on the ground. Just like your mum did, minus the clip round the ear. All very British.



Old Keep Britain Tidy poster

Old Keep Britain Tidy poster


When you are a small charity you need to be smart with your messaging, your marketing, and most importantly – your PR. Because that’s the one that’s most likely going to provide you with the biggest return – those all-important free column inches.

That’s why I was so impressed with their recent PR campaign. Instead of banging on about empty litter bins, Keep Britain Tidy decided to address the cause, not the symptoms. And courtesy of the Daily Mail, they’ve named and shamed the ten biggest producers of the litter that clogs up our streets.

List of biggest litter brands

List of biggest litter brands


And as you can see, they’ve dragged some big brand names into the melee.

Keep Britain Tidy got 500 volunteers to pick up, count and sort 37,000 pieces of litter: on streets, in parks, on beaches and along rivers and canals.

Not only do the results speak for themselves, they’ve been all overt the press and online. I clicked on ITV London news online, and came across images of a Coke bottle, a Mars bar, a packet of Walkers crisps and some McDonalds fries. Ouch I hear those Marketing Directors squeal.

Of course, it’s much easier for a charity to have a pop at a big brand than it is for a competitor to do so – after all, they don’t have to worry about getting into a slanging match or a pricing war.

But over the years some brands have decided to throw down the gauntlet.

The Pepsi Challenge has rightly taken its place in the Marketing Hall of Fame. Created in 1975, it was still running in the US as recently as 2011. It is, to my mind, probably the greatest experiential marketing campaign of all time.





Its sheer simplicity is probably what makes it so strong. Which tastes better, Pepsi or Coke? I also think it taps into something deep within the consumer psyche – we like to see someone taking on the BIG guy.

Not only did it capture the public imagination, it put Coke right on the back foot.

As the badge below shows, even when Coke claimed to have come out on top, it still somehow seems to have lost the argument.


Coke Pepsi Challenge badge

Coke Pepsi Challenge badge


Another brand that decided to take on the market leader was car rental firm Avis. Back in 1962 they launched their ‘We Try Harder’ campaign. It was based upon a simple truth: when you are number two in the market (and you want to be number one) you have to try harder.



Avis press ad

Avis press ad


 Unlike the Pepsi campaign they didn’t actually mention the competition, but every car-rental customer in the US knew they were comparing themselves to Hertz.


The campaign was talked about on the news and chat shows, and was written about in popular magazines of the day. In terms of earned media, it was big.


Avis badges in different languages

Avis badges in different languages


It was also successful. In fact it helped turn around the company’s fortunes.

In its first year it enabled Avis to post a profit of $1.2 million. That was the first time the company had been in the black in 13 years.

Such was the impact that the campaign had on the company; they couldn’t bear to part with it. The ‘We Try Harder’ slogan was only dropped in 2012. Five decades after it had first been introduced.


But in terms of taking on the big guys, there can be few brands that have done it in such a brazen fashion as retailer Aldi has.





In terms of grocery retailers, they are a minnow. Yet in promoting their own-brand products, this cheeky retailer took on everyday household brands such as Mr Kipling cakes, PG Tips tea, Heinz Tomato Ketchup and McVities Jaffa Cakes.




 It’s a brave strategy. And some would say a risky one.  But one that has reaped huge rewards. Aldi increased sales by over 30% in the twelve weeks up to Christmas 2012. The campaign was also cheap to produce (no celebrity fees), inherently tactical, and most important of all, charming. My one criticism is that they definitely missed a trick by not adding a simple experiential element to the campaign.



So as Aldi, Pepsi, Avis and Keep Britain Tidy have all shown, it can pay to go for the big guys. Because as the legendary 18th Century boxer Bob Fitzsimmonds said, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”


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