Does Brand Competition Ever Cross The Line?

Crossing the Line
Crossing the Line © Copyright CarbonNYC / David Goehring. Used under licence: CC-BY

If you see any laundry detergent or paper towel commercials, we all know who “the other leading brand” or “other leading brands” are. Some brand commercials don’t even try to hide the name of the competitor that they’re trying to make look bad on the air. While I understand the need for brands to set themselves apart from their competitors, does it ever cross the line?

I recently had an interesting experience shopping for a home backup generator. I had just checked into Lowes using Foursquare and was there to meet up with someone from Lowes to discuss the purchase and installation of a home backup generator. Within 10 minutes of being there, I heard my name announced on the Lowes public announcement system to come down to customer service. When I got there, they handed me the phone and told me that I had a phone call. When I took the phone, I thought it was the representative from Lowes who I was supposed to meet up with, but instead to my surprise it was Home Depot.

The person on the phone asked if I’d be willing to leave Lowes and head down to Home Depot instead. He offered give me 20% off my purchase if I did so. When I told him that the reason why I was at Lowes was because Home Depot could not immediately approve my credit card application he told me that he could take care of that in 20 minutes and to “forget those guys, just come down to Home Depot”. At that moment the Lowes representative that I was scheduled to meet showed up and I politely ended the phone conversation.

At first I wasn’t sure how to react to receiving the phone call from Home Depot. I’m impressed that they monitored my check-in and made an attempt to try and sway me from giving my business to Lowes, but I was turned off by the tone of the phone call. I felt that the tone of the phone call wasn’t so much about providing a good service to me as it was just trying to get me to walk out of Lowes. The whole time I was on the phone I was recalling what Dave Kerpen wrote about in his book, Likeable Social Media. Dave mentioned a time when he was in Las Vegas and was waiting on a long line to check into a hotel. He tweeted the situation and instantly received a tweet back from a competitor of the hotel. But the tweet didn’t ask Dave to leave his current hotel. Instead the tweet said that they hoped the rest of his stay in Las Vegas would be better. They didn’t bash the competition; they listened to the customer and reacted accordingly.

The rep from Home Depot could have done a number of things differently. They could have told me that they hoped I found what I was looking for and that they’d be open to helping me if I didn’t. They could have also told me that after my meeting with the Lowes rep to give them a chance to match any offer I received. But they didn’t. It was just a phone call to try and get me to walk out of Lowes and into the nearest Home Depot. I simply wasn’t going to do that because I also have my own reputation to think about and I was not going to walk out on a meeting that I had personally scheduled.

Personally, I don’t have anything against Home Depot, and I’ll still shop there. But do you think Home Depot crossed the line here? Would you have done the same thing to try and take away my business from Lowes? Should Home Depot have handled this differently, yes or no? And if yes, how so?

** Update 11/15/2012 **
I received an email from Home Depot saying that “it appears to be a third party sales associate’s good intentions to win your business gone too far. Without knowing the name of the individual or the store, we can’t tell exactly what happened, but it’s certainly not our practice to ever call a customer at a competitor’s location. Thanks very much for letting us know about this”. I applaud Home Depot’s follow up on this incident, and from what they say it’s not something they would ever do. The lesson here is that all companies should make sure that everyone needs to be aware of and abide by their social media rules and standards, including any individual franchises that bear their name.

8 thoughts on “Does Brand Competition Ever Cross The Line?

  1. I think this is definitely crossing the line and is highly invasive. Social media should not be used in this way at all. Location-based social media is a good way to reward customers for frequenting your establishment, or to provide some recognition or appreciation. However, it should not be used to try to steal business, imo. Nor should they ever call you! That is clearly crossing the creepy line.

    I think Home Depot should be made aware of this, as part of me thinks that their corporate team in charge of social media would never take this approach. I really believe that someone at the store did this without corporate being aware, or that it was some type of prank. I do not see how any corporate social media team would ever allow this despicable, invasive type of behavior. If I were you, I would reach out to Home Depot, or tweet them a link to your post.

    1. Hi Jen, thank you for commenting! I did tweet Home Depot after it happened, and they did not respond. Perhaps I will tweet my blog post to them. I agree with you, this isn’t how location based social check-ins should be used.

  2. What an experience. I agree with you, I think it was commendable for Home Depot to be monitoring your check ins, but they must also be careful in the way they approached you. I believe it’s just showis you that brands do listen now and are getting aggressive in their way of selling their service and product. They must take care though in their approach and their message and tone not to come out as creepy or too invasive.

    1. Hi Misty, thank you for commenting! I believe that a brand listening to check-ins is a good thing, but they need to be careful how they engage with users that check-in. Brands should be using social media to try and endear their fans to the brand, but not at the expense of other brands.

    1. Thanks Chris, so far Home Depot has reached out to me to investigate the incident. I hope to hear back from them about what they find. I would love to know if either get back to you too!

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