Can a Good-Natured Rivalry Boost Your Business?

5 September 2019 | 26 Comments

I’ve spent the last two weeks craving fried chicken sandwiches.

Why? It all started with a tweet from Popeyes suggesting that its new chicken sandwich rivaled that of Chick-Fil-A. The result has been a perfect storm of traditional and social media–I’ve heard about these sandwiches from CNN, the NY Times, The Daily Show, Conan O’Brien, and a number of YouTube channels showing people taste-testing the two sandwiches.

These daily reminders have continuously reminded me that I should obtain chicken sandwiches from these restaurants and eat them with my mouth. Yet I’ve been unable to do so because the lines at both Popeyes and Chick-Fil-A have been incredibly long.

So while I wait to get my chicken fix, I started to wonder if there’s a situational value in good-natured rivalries. That’s an unusual thought for me in particular, as I view other game designers and companies as peers, not competitors. But I also appreciate good marketing.

Is there a mutually beneficial way to have a fun rivalry with another company? A way to put both companies in the spotlight, generate sales, and give people something to talk about?

I think the biggest challenge is keeping it light and fun so that neither company looks like a jerk. It’s very easy for soundbites to be twisted or misinterpreted.

Also, I’m not sure if it works for every type of product. Chicken sandwiches are inexpensive, easily obtained consumables. If you’re motivated to try both of them, you can do so (at least, if they lines aren’t too long). Board games are a different beast, not to mention even more expensive products.

Though I wonder even then if it can work in the right environment. Imagine a fun rivalry between the the Dodge Ram and the Toyota Prius. They’re not really competing with each other, as they serve different types of customers. But if they good naturedly poked fun at each other, they could get passionate fans/owners of each to post on social media about how they’re a Ram person or a Prius person, and suddenly you have a lot of other people wondering about whether they’re a Ram person or a Prius person.

I don’t know, I’m just riffing here. I can’t think of a way it would work in the tabletop gaming industry, as I don’t like to encourage Stonemaier fans to do anything that might damage or disparage other game companies. I’d rather keep things positive.

But if you can think of a way to make it work (or other successful, fun business rivalries), please share them in the comments!

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26 Comments on “Can a Good-Natured Rivalry Boost Your Business?

  1. I think sometimes there is rivalry and sometimes beneficial comparison and from what I see on the tabletop the rivalry is generally a bit false and the comparison far more usual. For example, if someone likes Dixit I’m far more likely to say, if you like Dixit then you’ll probably like Mysterium rather than say Mysterium is a Dixit killer. Its why the tabletop world has a whole sub-genre of ‘gateway game’.

    But I’d say that if there was to be an actual rivalry that fans could actually have a free taste test of it would probably be via something like a BGG design contest. There’s a one page print and play design contest each year, if two designers wanted to have a friendly rivalry I’d imagine that something like that would be the best place to have it.

  2. Hey,

    Great post. I think healthy competition is a great thing and interactions between the two are great for all involved (assuming the interactions are in good nature). This can scale to expensive products too. I know Airbus and Boeing have had on/off interactions for decades and as people mentioned, Coca cola and pepsi have too.

    The board game industry I find to always be a unique industry. The industry as a whole feels more like a community than a traditional business oriented industry. Of course every business is pursuing profits but I feel like this industry more than any, pursues those profits to continue the progression of the industry.

    It’s quite possible my optimistic view of the world is narrowing my vision but I truly believe it’s a great industry and healthy competition will continue the great success of the industry and consumers as a whole.

  3. Hi!

    I purchased Azul, and then Sagrada, just because I loved Azul and somebody told me Sagrada was “similar”.

    In the music business, I think rivalry has been a huge marketing tool for years :)

  4. I think the rivalry between Stphen Buonocore of Stronghold Games and Tom Vassal of The Dice Tower is a great example of what you’re looking for. It’s all in jest and good-natured. Stronghold even sponsors Dice Tower shows while Tom ribs their games.

    Another example I’ve participated in relates to the YouTube show Good Mythical Morning. I was casually interested in the show when they started a twitter feud with a TV news station show Good Morning, Maryland over the use of #GMM. This was fun to jump into, and I tweeted along with many others. In the end, the news show conceded, but only after fans of Good Mythical Morning donated to the Maryland Food Bank, which I did although I live in Illinois.

    Both of these examples show beneficial rivalries that aren’t necessarily between two similar products and that end in beneficial results that aren’t necessarily just in more sales.

  5. Not related, but this article inspired me to consider another angle. What about two games from two different publishers that relate to each other? The example that is top of mind for me is Street Fighter X Tekken / Tekken X Street Fighter. One was made by Capcom, the other by Bandai/Namco, each in their own style. Would be especially interesting if one game was a heavy euro and the other a minis Amerithrash game, for example :)

    Or, games from different publishers that take the same core design document or theme or some other element, and take them different places? Or games which can be played complimentary (like GIPF? ugh…)

    Anyway, thoughts.

  6. Jamey, the only issue (and this is honestly how large someone would make an issue of it) is that SMG is interchangeable with yourself as an individual. The fun thing about the rivalries between Chick-fil-a and Popeyes is that there isn’t an individual behind that so a brand poking fun at another brand seems funny, but a person poking fun at another person could seem weird and out of place. I could see CMON and Fantasy Flight perhaps going at it like this, but I don’t know how well it would for you….but I do like, ad you say, a good back and forth between companies!

  7. I believe the impact might be created by “doing something unique”. What came to mi mind was a little contest at some convention. You probably believe you have “the best” new take on a Civ game right now. Find a publisher, who also claims to have a fresh Civ game (New Dawn? Hadara? etc.). I imagine having those two games table to table, inviting players to try both. The good publicity might be in doing “a contest-like event”, which might feel fresh and new. Not like you are not competing with everyone else at every convention :).

  8. An interesting dynamic shown by the Popeyes vs. Chik-fil-a “rivalry” is that the campaign is successful because of the well known status of one product. I.e., Chik-fil-a’s chicken sandwich is widely recognized as one of, if not the, best budget option. That status interestingly makes it an “easy” (in that attacking it is likely to gain widespread attention), but “difficult” (in that taking it down and replacing it is no easy task) target.

    I think that dynamic can certainly be replicated in other spheres, with the caveat that you still need to compare oranges to oranges. I actually think this already happens, as evidenced by the fact that newer games using the same mechanics and/or themes of predecessor games either successfully dethrone them and become the new (temporary) standards, while others fade away into irrelevance in the same effort.

  9. Related: I’d love to know your thoughts about marketing through controversy. Since you *may* have received some inadvertent controversy marketing through things like the Tapestry ratings war on BGG, you might be able to reflect on the effect of that sort of thing in a way the rest of us can’t.

  10. How much does it matter that Popeyes and Chick Fil A are both really large and already publicly known companies?
    I’m not sure what a friendly rivalry looks like from two niche companies that are going for the same audience in the way those restaurants are.
    I think it could work for a game developer, but only if they are making kind of similar, but distinct, products. There needs to be room for a good number of people to purchase both things.

  11. I second J.R. Honeycutt’s remark regarding Stephen Buonocore – specifically his ‘rivalry’ with Tom Vassel where he plays a quasi-villain role. I am certain that this long-standing play-act with Tom has resulted in invaluable name-recognition and branding for both Buonocore and Stronghold Games. I probably would be somewhat aware of Stronghold Games, but I doubt I would be aware at all of who Stephen Buonocore himself is or what his significance is within board gaming without his frenemy relationship with the Dice Tower. Obviously though, this sort of shtick isn’t for everyone and is very much dependent on the personalities of those involved! But it can work within board gaming!

  12. Hey Jamey, given that the Rugby world cup will be starting this month and that you intend to travel to New Zealand in the foreseeable future, an old rugby tradition sprung to mind after reading this hypothetical rivalry you pose. I am no kiwi so I will not recall all the details but you may discover those when you visit. They have some lump of a log or piece of oak or some artefact with zero intrinsic value. When the teams meet each other in competitions and in friendlies there may at least or also be this piece of wood on the line. I think you need to defeat the holder on their own turf to take it. League format competitions (which you have commented on previously) can sometimes produce some dead rubber fixtures. This can spice things up. They then look for bragging rights about who held it the longest this year and so forth. So if we transpose this from the rugby pitch to the table top, you’d invite another designer to one of your game nights and they would have to beat you at Viticulture to wrest the giant misshapen meeple from your clutches.

  13. I think it could be a good marketing experiment. You are right that it is a bit harder with higher ticket items. But one way to keep it light and fun is have private contact with the other company and talk about boundaries, and if any customers get too wild, shut it down fast.

  14. A type of rivalry, not necessarily intended (or wanted) by an industry, but that has occurred is the idea of “the new ### killer”. The one that comes to mind is “Is this the next iPhone killer?” in the phone industry (I neither endorse, nor like the iPhone, so I don’t consider it the pinnacle of phone design many do).

    If this was translated over to board games, it would probably translate into:

    “Is ### the next Gloomhaven killer?”

    Now I’m sure Isaac would appreciate this type of rivalry as he loves playing other peoples games (as do you Jamey, from you regular videos) and I’m sure he’d love to play any game considered by the community to be up there in (somewhat open for debate) the BGG rankings.

    It’s not quite the same as your original thought about two specific designers/publishers facing off lightheartedly against each other though.

  15. In case it’s ever relevant, I love a good footrace (50-100 yards). I will accept all challenges from fellow publishers. I’m not sure it will impact business at all, but I will still have fun. :)

  16. I think what makes this interesting in the tabletop space is that publishers (for the most part) are still relatively small shops of < 10 people, with a very public face. You with Stonemaier, Buonocore w/ Stronghold, etc. It’s such a personal industry, that it would make it could tend to more often blur the line between business/personal interaction. As opposed to something like Chick-fil-a or Popeyes, which are very much in the realm of ‘faceless corporation.’

    Though, that personal nature could work in your favor too. Old professional ‘wrestling’ (WWE, etc.) rivalries were basically entirely marketing, often with the individuals behind the scenes being good friends from what I understand. The trick is, getting fanbases to keep it civil and not turn it into a social media street-gang war.

    Just some random thoughts…

  17. I thinks a good example of this is Wendys twitter account. They get a lot of media attention by “destroying” people/companies on Social media to the point that people try to tag wendys with an insult so that they can get dissed back.

    This has caused the entire fast food industry to get into “rivalries” with eachother which is where I am certain that the chick-fil-a and popeyes social media war started.

    It works well because it feeds what humans love about rap battle culture, except in this case Wendys is Eminem.

    Idk how well it works for tabletop world as I feel that core fans are adverse to negativity in any form (probably because many of us were bullied as kids) but I do know that plaid hats social media was looking for “beef” I am sure because of Wendys, and I went as far as changing my twitter name to polka dot hat games and drawing a polka dot hat on my logo.

    It was good fun, but probably got 0 peoples attention

  18. I believe the person you’re looking for is Stephen Buonocore – he’s always ready for a little good-natured rivalry!

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