EA and Activision's back and forth banter is making a lot of press - and is certainly fun to watch - but it is sadly nothing new. Those of us enjoying our formative beer imprinting years during the rise of Corona may remember the workers are pissing in Corona rumors started by US Heineken distributors and there are many other similar stories over the years. While at a car show in Pebble Beach over the weekend I came across an old Cadillac ad providing the best way to address these campaigns. In those days they did not use the press, they did not use a whisper campaign, they just talked about themselves.
In 1915, when Cadillac was establishing its reputation as the "Cadillac" of cars, it was the first to market with a V8 Engine. Packard, the major competitor, did not like this and responded by spreading rumors about reliability. The lead copywriter was frustrated by all of the misinformation in the market and tried to figure out the root of the problem. After much thought, he identified it as "The Penalty of Leadership" and sat down and dictated what would become the "Cadillac of responses" for use in the Saturday Evening Post:
In every field of human endeavour, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man’s work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work be mediocre, he will be left severely alone - if he achieves a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass or to slander you unless your work be stamped with the seal of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious, continue to cry out that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountback, long after the big would had acclaimed him its greatest artistic genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river banks to see his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy - but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as human passions - envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains - the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live - lives.
The ad was a huge success. When asked why it worked, Theodore MacManus, the author had a simple reason. “The real suggestion to convey is that the man manufacturing the product is an honest man, and that the product is an honest product, to be preferred above all others.”
I know we do not talk like this any more, but its sure gets to the heart of the matter. It is really the same message Steve Jobs conveyed years later in the Think Different campaign - but with teeth and venom. He is not weighing right or wrong, or high road or low road. It is a collection words assembled to completely and articulately deflate anyone who chooses to challenge them off the playing field. If you have a product to put against my product, have at it. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut.
How much cooler, and more effective, would either side have sounded if they read this before they responded. I realize you can not use such a large collection of words in our age of sound bytes and sub 140 character strings of characters. But translated in today's terms, they could have just said "The two games are releasing within weeks of each other. We are confident the market will prove us right."