The NBA had Magic and Bird in the 80's, a rivalry which took a declining category and made it more popular than any other sport.
More recently Kanye West and 50 cent went head tot head, releasing albums on the same day and creating a great buzz + great first week sales for their albums.
Death Row Records had Bad Boy Records.
But where are the great rivalries with consumer goods?
For all the talk of evangelist brand loyalty, iconic brands, it seems that there is not much going on in terms of rivalry. Yet this is a staple ingridient for loyal fans to grow.
Sure Apple and Microsoft had some run ins, Burgerking and McDonalds, but in all the categories you can think, how many geniune rivalries are there that get people buzzing ?
The definition of rivalry is the following: the act of rivaling, a state of being a rival; a competition. Competing for the same finite goal.
So before one can examine why there are no great rivalries, lets answer the question:
what does make for a rivalry, or a great rivalry at that:
A shared history:
If two enteties have a history whit each other, this is great basis for a rivalry. one was started as a antidote to the other, or they came from same backrounds but took different routes to the same goal.
The quality of the output/product.
For a rivalry to start the opposites have to be equaly good.
You can not hate what u can not see. The two enteties have to be close enough to each other for followers to identify one as pro and the other as contra. they also have to aspire to deliver the same emotional connection/pay-off for either set of supporters (the lakers and celtics both went for the same title for instance).
Head to Head:
This is basically a must. Without this rivalries will not happen. One of the great rivalries of recent years: the redsox and the yankees became that in part because they played each other more than 50 times in a couple of years.
You both gotta be chasing the number one spot or else people will tune out.
Something out of the ordianary has to occur that links the two together and creates diverse emotional responses/camps. Think of an all out brawl between two Baseball teams.
Taking this all in to account several problems can be spotted.
First of the chasing of the same finite goal. Most products, aspire to have a long life. there is no rush to get to the finish line. so if there is no time clock, why bother tuning in now. as a consumer, you perhaps subconciously feel that there is no urge to act now, as there is most likely always tomorrow. And most brand claim victory anyway by moving the goal post. Just think of all the metrics to justify some kind of leadership...
Competiveness: Most products are just not good enough.
Head to Head:
Separate launches, commercials that run at different times. there is this sense that brands do anything to avoid each other. only when they can't avoid it, like on a shelve is there a head to head. mostly dissapointingly bland.
Ipod was a black swan. Microsoft and Sony were sleeping, chance missed.
" We try harder" strategy and campaing was a Black Swan at the time; prompting Avis and Hertz to go head to head with great products and ads.
All in all it seems that the great loyalty, passed on from generation to generation, is not being achieved by most brands (even though they like to believe that they do achieve it), because they prefer to operate in a vacuum, declaring themself victorious by default. yet the same loyalty can be achieved if they were to become open to their enviroment, allowing for context to select their opponents, and followers.
A friend of mine used to say: put a $100, - on it and you got yourself a game and fans, no matter what. while this is true, there are alot of ways yet for brands to create followings/emotions that in the end benefit not just the brands, but the categories, and consumers...
I'll bet that it won't happen any time soon though...but at least this is a good exercise for a creative session with clients and agencies