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Tuning a Tin Ear

Macho PR

T vs V Every now and then, senior executives let their testosterone get the better of them. (Both men and women secrete testosterone by the way. Women are actually even more sensitive to it than men.)  

Anyway, when the testosterone flows, people do dumb things. Exhibit A is AT&T's suit against Verizon over the latter's claim that it has broader high-speed cellular coverage.  See the map to the left appears in the company's commercials, which one observer termed "a bitch slap" at AT&T

As a senior executive at the old, "new AT&T," I have been in many meetings where one business unit head or another got so exasperated with a competitor's actions (or advertising claims) that he or she pounded the table, fixed the General Counsel with an icy stare and shouted "let's sue the bastards!"  

In almost every case, the General Counsel let the senior team vent and then quietly did nothing.  In fact, at the height of the long distance wars, we set up a private arbitration process supervised by the Federal Trade Commission to resolve complaints about our respective advertising campaigns without going to court.  

One big lesson we learned in the telecom wars is that, when competitors throw mud at each other, customers give up on both of them.  We also learned that it seldom pays to draw attention to a competitor's claims (as AT&T's suit managed to do). They might as well have made million dollar deposits in Verizon's ad budget. 

Now Verizon has added a new lesson in its response to AT&T's suit -- match your competitor's phony outrage with a big dose of sarcasm and ridicule.  

Verizon's 53-page response to AT&T's suit begins "AT&T did not file this lawsuit because Verizon's 'There's A Map For That' advertisements are untrue; AT&T sued because Verizon's ads are true and the truth hurts." 

The rest of the filing is just as brutal and written in eminently quotable language. The jury may still be out on the comparable breadth of the two companies' networks, but Verizon is the clear winner in the PR battle. 

As Saul Alinsky noted in Rules for Radicals, more than thirty years ago, ridicule is one of the most potent weapons in responding to an attack. It's almost impossible to contradict and it infuriates your opponent, which gets that testosterone flowing all over again.  


great post!!

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