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April 30, 2007

How to Compete with the Big Boys

Every business needs to do everything it can to stand out from the crowd, to differentiate itself from the competition. This is a major challenge for companies that sell substantially the same thing as their competitors.

The average business does not have the resources of a multinational corporation that often uses its substantial marketing muscle to buy market share or to drive competition out of the marketplace. Big business also uses its deep pockets to flood various media with advertising, making them a pervasive presence.
The Web has always been an egalitarian environment where smaller companies could present themselves using the same techniques as the big boys, and if these companies did it well they could stand side-by-side with their competitive behemoths.
One thing that small and medium sized businesses should take some comfort in is that many large corporations are notoriously poorly run, relying on brawn rather than brain to get the job done. Many survive because over time they have acquired huge resources, become oligopolies, or they use predatory marketing practices to stifle competition.
As the Web becomes more and more a multimedia environment, corporations are starting to use their financial resources, and inventory of commercial assets and programming (not to be confused with computer programming), to deliver their marketing messages. The question is can smaller businesses compete, and if so, how?
Slipstream Marketing
Dr. Max Sutherland, a Marketing Psychologist and Professor at Bond University, has written about a concept he refers to as ‘slipstreaming.’ Anyone who is familiar with motor racing or even bicycle racing understands that slipstreaming is a drafting method where a racer tucks behind a front-running rival reducing wind resistance and saving fuel and energy, and with a quick move, the challenger can slingshot past the race leader.
The clever implementation of slipstream style marketing campaigns can allow you to blow by your competition by using the momentum of well-known and instantly recognizable campaigns.

Slipstreaming references a collective audience memory, a kind of shared consciousness. Skillful execution draws ínstant recognition and an “Oh I Get It!” reaction without a lot of wasted setup or groundwork.
“Give Me The Same Thing, But Different!”
The key of course is how you make your version different. What’s the twist? Blake Snyder, a Hollywood screenwriter and author, writes about entertainment executives’ constant refrain, “Get me the same thing, but different.” What Snyder has learned and what he preaches is that movie moguls understand it’s easier to get people to go to a movie they understand and that was already a success, but the trick is making the new version different, that is different but the same.
If you think slipstreaming is an easy way to be creative you’re wrong. Being different but the same is not as simple as it sounds, but success can depend on it. Done poorly slipstreaming comes off as lame and imitative, but done correctly you appear clever and cutting-edge, and more importantly you deliver the marketing message in a way your audience will remember.
There are an endless variety of things you can slipstream: personalities, icons, slogans, music, advertisements, news events, pop culture phenomena, movies, television shows, commercials, and sporting events.
One of our favorite personality slipstreaming techniques is the use of voice-over. It can be implemented as part of a video campaign or as a stand-alone feature. We have used sound-alike actors to portray Rod Serling, Sam Elliot, Steve Irwin, Paul Winfield, Tom Brokaw, and many others.
What makes this approach so valuable is that most people will relate to the voice as someone they know, or are familiar with, but not immediately recognize.
This method captures people’s attention with the familiar sound of a famous voice but without the cost of hiring the celebrity. Often the voice does not even have to be that close to the original, it’s the cadence, delivery, tone, and scrípt that makes people sit-up and take notice.
Cutting through the jungle of advertising noise is a challenge for everyone in business and this technique is a very effective method of getting heard and being remembered.
Television Shows
Another slipstream technique we’ve used is to play upon the audience’s knowledge and familiarity with certain television shows. We have created Web-videos, written scrípts, added dialogue and composed music that reminds people of the old ‘Twilight Zone’ series and the popular A&E show, ‘City Confidential.’
One of our most successful Web-promotion campaigns was the ‘Multimedia Versus SEO Campaign’ where we took advantage of the well know Macintosh Versus PC television commercials. Nobödy needed an explanation or setup to understand what was going on in the commercials. We basically slipstreamed Apple’s television campaign.
Slogans are another resource for slipstreaming and if you think only small companies slipstream, think again. The A&E Network used the slogan “Time Well Spent” for many years, while The Comedy Network slipstreamed it with their own twisted version “Time Well Wasted” – the same thing, but different.
With the popularity of Hip Hop music, the milk marketing board developed a series of commercials with dairy farmers rapping to a catchy Hip Hop tune well prancing around their farm animals. Hip Hop was also slipstreamed by Smirnoff in their Raw Tea campaign and ‘Tea Partay’ viral video.
Pop Culture
With the popularity of poker and the World Poker Tour, we developed a Mike Sexton style character, host of the television show, for one of our projects. We’ve even created nostalgia radio-style audio pitches that hark back to the olden age of radio plays.
We created an entire campaign for a client based on the idea, “Life Deserves A Sound Track” where everyday situations were described in dramatic style with familiar voice-over announcers, which was our take on Will Ferrell’s hit movie ‘Stranger Than Fiction.’
We’ve created presentations using the personas of famous sports figures like Hall of Fame pitcher and broadcaster Dizzy Dean and Mel Allan. We created scenarios and scrípts using the voices and personas of World Champion racecar driver Jackie Stewart and one crazy scrípt fashioned in the style of college basketball analyst Dick Vitale.
As you can see from these examples, there are an endless number of ways to take advantage of the public’s shared experience. So the next time you need to come up with a new Web marketing campaign for your company, think like a Hollywood mogul: Come Up With Something That’s The Same, But Different.

Author:  Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit, and Contact at or telephone (905) 764-1246.