Friday, February 10, 2012

The underhanded world of advertising

About a year ago, a new vitamin supply shop moved in on McKnight Road. The location is honestly not good, at an intersection but not highly visible; to make it worse, the parking lot is not obvious, so there appears to be little to no parking available for the new store. I watched the building grow, and its tenant move in and become operational. Yet I couldn't help noticing that within weeks of its big grand opening, there were huge "sale" banners flying madly out front.

I told my son that I gave it a few months at most, and then I predicted the store would close. I was frankly surprised that any lender would have funded a new building on the site, when there are myriad empty storefronts all along both sides of McKnight Road. It seemed downright foolhardy—the building and the business—especially considering that right up the road was at least one GNC location.

Well, apparently, the new vitamin store has hung in there. It's still open. It still sports the same sale banners, but it remains in business. And GNC isn't happy about this. They began the war by beginning to advertise on the large electronic billboard that sits, conveniently, right next to their new competitor. Each time we passed, there was a new GNC ad flashing periodically at just the same level as the other store's main sign. At first, GNC kept it innocent; they made heavy use of the billboard location, but maintained some class with a November/December Santa-themed campaign, which was actually sort of cute and eye-catching.

But now? GNC has gotten ugly. The latest round of ads is aimed directly at the new vitamin supplier. The old standby has targeted its younger competitor by creating snide one-liners that poke fun at the name of the newer shop. You sit at the stoplight, and you look at the new shop, likely struggling yet surviving, and then you see the GNC ads that make no apology about ridiculing the newcomer right in front of its face.

And I think that's rude. It's common, though—and it bothers me. I won't shop at Walgreen's, either, because they practice really obnoxious business tactics like building new stores directly across the street from other big-box drug stores. Not to mention they show no regard for ousting unrelated businesses that are already profiting in locations that Walgreen's finds to be desirable...but that's another story.

I guess this is why I shy away from the world of sales, especially among big, recognized brand names. Even if you sell a product you believe in, it seems that simply offering a good quality, reasonably priced item isn't enough any more. Now, you must be cutthroat. Now, in order to survive, you must be enemies with the other businesses who bear a resemblance to you.

Has it always been this way? It seems that towns used to be big enough for two general stores. Maybe they each had a niche; perhaps one offered a specialty item that the other did not, or received shipments of like items at different times. Has that changed? In this ever-available, increasingly cruel marketing world that caters to fickle consumerism, is it possible that unkind backstabbing is the only way to survive?

No. I refuse to believe that. I'm going to keep on intentionally shopping small, local, American-made companies that have morals and class. And when I am able to say "No" to the jerks? I'm gonna. I urge you to do the same. Vote with your dollars, even if it's a bit more expensive or slightly less convenient. If you're anything like me, you'll feel better about your choices.


Facie said...

I am not very up on the "good guys" when it comes to things like this. I do try to support local businesses when I can, though in small amounts (coffee shop and pastry place and occasionally a local gift shop). When it comes to groceries, however, I go wherever I can save money (not that there are any local places where I live).

I am curious as to why you did not name the vitamin place. Maybe you could help drum up some business. Word of mouth is still a good way to advertise.

Mel said...

no reason to not name--I guess I assumed anyone close enough to shop there would immediately know which shop I meant: The Vitamin Shoppe. if I bought vitamins/minerals/supplements, I would shop there just to spite GNC.