OOH Caught Between Brand Wars

Tubi's digital billboards, one saying "Dear Netflix, I had my first freesome last night.", one saying "Dear NYC, you free tonight? Because we are."

Brand advertising wars are not something unheard of. They have been around since forever but have never really gone out of style. If anything, competitive advertising is stronger and more creative than ever. Depending on how you initiate a competitive campaign at your rival, or how you react to one directed at you, your brand’s royalty ranking can be boosted tremendously and create an increase in sales. In this article, we will take a look down memory lane at some of the most iconic and timeless competitive OOH campaigns from some of the biggest brands to ever exist.

Audi vs. BMW

The automobile industry is considered to be one of the most competitive industries there is, as a lot of money and time is poured into perfecting a new model for each season. Therefore, when it comes to advertising, it’s no surprise that companies tend to get a little competitive. Speaking of competition, no one could forget the legendary advertising battle between two of the biggest car manufacturers in the world.

2 giant billboards about automobile next to each other, with a blimp on top

The advertising war between Audi and BMW started way back in 2007 when BMW released an ad campaign to promote its 35 MOA Rally Chess Tournament. Audi was the first to rile up their competitor by putting up a giant billboard in California with the message, “Chess? NO thanks, I’d rather be driving.” If that wasn’t clear enough who they were pointing their finger at, Audi went ahead and changed the message to say, “Your move BMW”. This opened up a series of quick-witted responses from both manufacturers, with BMW immediately replying with another billboard right next to Audi’s, which was 3 times bigger in size, and even getting a blimp floating above the signs.

posters of BMW and Audi side by side

When everyone thought it was over, BMW put out a poster congratulating their rival on winning the title, “South African Car of the Year 2006”, however they also used a rather mocking tone by signing as “the Winner of World Car of the Year 2006”. Quickly countering this move, Audi also replied with a similar poster, except this time they declared the winner title for Le Mans 24 Hour Race, the world’s most prominent active sports car race for 6 consecutive years. This has become a golden opportunity for other automobile brands like Subaru and Bentley to chime in, creating a massive campaign tournament for the industry.

Xiaomi vs. Oneplus

While smartphone technology no longer belongs exclusively to Apple like when it started out, it’s no doubt that it’s still dominating the field in terms of brand loyalty. However, in the past few years, other smartphone companies have been making rapid progress in getting consumers’ interest and trust, as well as the ability to fight for that top position. One example of such companies is the advertising war between OnePlus and Xiaomi.

2 billboards next to each other about promoting new smartphones for OnePlus and Xiaomi

In 2019, OnePlus released its new Oneplus7 and had a big OOH campaign with billboards featuring Robert Downey Jr. modeling for the new phone in various locations like Murugram and Mumbai. Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity, Xiaomi immediately erected their billboards right next to those with the tagline, “Starkly superior to the latest ONE”, and showed off their new line of smartphones that were also coming out. What’s clever about this is how Xiaomi not only used the location and OnePlus’ own font to subtly diss their rival, they also referenced one of Robert Downey Jr.’s biggest roles, Tony Stark, also known as Ironman.

They even took it a step further by having Manu Kumar Jain, Vice President of Xiaomi, promote this campaign on Twitter and encourage people to take pictures with it and share it with him.  

Starbucks vs. …Everyone

Second Cup's poster saying "It's time to call small, medium & large, small, medium & large. It's time for a change."

Starbucks is a coffeehouse brand based in the U.S. but has recognition and love all around the world. One of its unique features is the cup size system, using Italian terms – Tall, Grande, and Venti. While it definitely makes the brand sound fancier, it has been causing confusion for many who don’t know Italian or are visiting the shop for the first time. Taking this into account, in 2011, Second Cup – one of Starbucks’ biggest competitors in Canada – put out a poster that poked fun at Starbucks size system stating, “It’s time to call small, medium, & large, small, medium, & large. It’s time for a change.”.

McDonald's poster with the text "Four bucks is dumb. now serving espresso."

Second Cup is not the only one who made an OOH campaign challenging Starbucks. McDonald’s chose Seattle as their ground to release over 100 OOH billboards jabbing at the multinational chain with slogans like, “Four bucks is dumb”, or, “Large is the new Grande”, once again making fun of the cup measurements, but also criticizing the high price point of Starbucks beverages.

Dunkin Donuts' T-shirt merch with the text "Friends don't let friends drink Starbucks"

Another famous brand that joined in with the trend was Dunkin Donuts. It’s been reported in a national blind taste test that the average American prefers Dunkin’s coffee over Starbucks. With this information, the company wasted no time in making one of its biggest advertising campaigns on various platforms. From the proud announcement on their website, to posters, to even merchandise like mugs and T-shirts with the witty slogan, “Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks.”

 Coca Cola vs. Pepsi

Pepsi and Coca-Cola's poster for Halloween, side by side

And let’s not forget about the legendary advertising wars between the two beverage giants, The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo. The ongoing battles between these two are endless and so good that they’re even referred to as, “the cola wars” and have their own dedicated Wikipedia page. When it comes to hitting back at their number one competition both corporations go all out, spreading multiple campaigns on every platform possible, including giant OOH billboards.

One famous instance was during Halloween 2013, when Pepsi put out posters of a can of Pepsi wearing a cape with  Coca Cola’s name on it and the text, “We wish you a scary Halloween!”. In response to this, Coca Cola didn’t need much time to make a whole new campaign, but decided to use the same poster, only now with a different slogan, “Everyone wants to be a hero!”. But that was all it needed to flip the situation right over.

Pepsi's billboards promoting PepsiMax, with the text "Too much taste to call ourselves a zero" and "Maximum pepsi taste"

Another case of Pepsi trying to outdo Coca-Cola was when they released Pepsi Max and had giant billboard signs with a witty text declaring, “Too much taste to call ourselves a zero.”

The rivalry between Pepsi and Coke has been a staple example of how to successfully get the public hyped up about the products on both ends, gaining massive traction and consumer engagement.

Wrapping Up

It can be seen from the case studies mentioned above, that brands love competitive advertising, evidently through the tremendous efforts, brainpower, and monetary investments that make each campaign possible. Comparing  each other is a perfect way for companies to promote their products while simultaneously taking a light-hearted jab at their competitors. A campaign from one brand can trigger a chain of follow-ups and can easily get the attention of consumers. The competition is fun and easy for consumers to compare and take sides, actively joining in on the conversation and spreading the news, and in turn, promoting all brands involved even further. Needless to say, it’s a clear win-win situation!

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