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Hard Knocks

How to give the competition a few kicks--and still come off looking like the good guy

Should I go negative?" That's the question that might occasionally buzz around in your head as you wonder about taking a whack at your major competitor in your advertising. You've got the proverbial little red devil on one shoulder urging you to "Go ahead, do it!" and the little white angel on the other side cautioning against it.

This kind of thinking happens when you're convinced your product or service is superior to your competitor's, or equal to theirs but less costly, yet is not as successful. You figure that using your ads to point out their negatives compared to your positives could turn some heads and bring more customers in the door.

I say, go for it . . . not specifically as a devil or angel, but more as a devilish angel. By that I mean no bare knuckles, brass knuckles or knees to the groin like some of the political ads in last year's campaigns.

Rather, give your rival a little kick in the shins with a smile on your face that still makes the point. The purpose is to convince the public that it's somehow getting shafted by your competitors and that your outfit has the real deal.

That's my message to Charles Wittish, a New York City entrepreneur and founder of Direct Casket. Just as the goosebump-inducing name implies, Direct Casket will sell you a direct-from-the-manufacturer casket instead of your having to pay the expected markup when buying through a funeral home. The difference in price is substantial, says Wittish. A casket that the funeral home normally sells at "retail" for $2,000 can be purchased from Direct Casket for $800 to $900. And if you pre-plan--which means placing your order before the need arises and having your casket stored free of charge by the company--you can save even more.

So how should Wittish portray the funeral home industry and take it on in his advertising? I'd paint it as the big, bad Goliath that would like to do in a righteous little outfit like Direct Casket.

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This article was originally published in the March 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hard Knocks.

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