Al Ries and Jack Trout on what it takes to wage offensive warfare

This article deals with the principles of Offensive Strategy. The conceptual inputs are drawn from the book on "Marketing Warfare" from Al Ries and Jack Trout. The anchoring in the Indian context has also been done.


The Marketing Gurus, Al Ries and Jack Trout, in their book on "Marketing Warfare" are down to earth and very practical. Since their concepts are simple and direct it is quite easy to relate to Indian examples that are available aplenty. These Indian examples will also help in a deeper understanding of the principles of Offensive warfare.

The three principles of Offensive Warfare, as described by the authors in their 20th Anniversary Paperback edition, are a) The main consideration is the strength of the leader's position b) Find a weakness in the leader's strength and c) Launch the attack on as narrow a front as possible.

Strength of the leader's position

"What a No2 or No3 company should do is to focus on the leader. The leader's product, the leader's sales force, the leader's pricing, the leader's distribution" ( page 68)

"What the leader owns is a position in the mind of the prospect. To win the battle of the mind, you must take away the leader's position before you can substitute your own. It's not enough for you to succeed; others must fail. Specifically, the leader". (page 68)

This is easier said than done in Indian conditions. The best example in this respect is the battle in the branded potato chips segment, Lays is number one. It was the first mover and still enjoys this advantage. A tough competitor is "Bingo" from ITC. Lays is under threat. Bingo is being advertised and positioned as a family snack that can be enjoyed by the entire family. It chose local TV heroes and added some humor to their advertisements. The product itself was good and ITC has introduced many flavors too. It is No2 in the market and is fighting tooth and nail to be in this position. For example, in the rural markets, many thousands of customers who booze also buy the Rs.5 pack of Bingo for their "side dish", This is a wise strategy and it works. The local retailer often puts in a good word citing the name of the company. This brand is so famous in the consumer mind and it does work. Even those who have just passed the school final stage know that ITC is a famous Indian company. They have used ITC classic products for their children. The connect helps to reinforce the strength of the brand.

Bingo is still number two. But it has challenged Pepsico and it continues to do so., It has wisely entered specialized markets and even into the ready-to-use spices market. ITC is aware that dislodging the likes of Shakthi Masala and Aachi the market leader would not be so easy. It has intelligently entered the market with specialized products like Tanjore Sambar powder with its distinct taste.

Bajaj Auto is the No.2 in the motorcycle market, It has successfully launched a big advertisement blitz where it has highlighted its product features and the fact that the bikes are very durable that gives good mileage. It does all this to consciously defend its No2 position from the nearest competitor called TVS Motors. It should be noted that the No.3 actually overtook the No.2 for a short while.

Find a weakness in the leader's strength

The weakness in the market leader is often difficult to find out and it is often wise to offer value for money products at low prices in India. The discerning customers would know that the cheaper product is meant for them, while the costlier product can be purchased by those with more purchasing power. This is exactly what happened several decades ago when Nirma emerged as the giant from Gujarat. This product was not at all equal to Surf from Hindustan Unilever. (then Hindustan Lever). The advertisement had a fabulous memory recall and Nirma was growing so strong in every market. The MNC giant hit back with its own product called Wheel.

The MNC has since then learned its lesson. Surf Excel comes in a small pack of Rs.10/-. The high decibel advertising is firmly entrenched in the minds of millions of customers who remember the young boy destroying the cricket ground when told by his cricket coach that they should rather give up playing cricket after some failures. The small company called Cavinkare started the sachet segment revolution in India. When Chik shampoo was introduced in sachets priced at just one rupee apiece the smaller operator came up with one of the best-known innovations in pricing and brand building. Cavinkare gave one sachet free for every five empty sachet packs of its own Chik shampoo. The sales boomed in the rural areas and the company was not able to produce enough to cater to the demand. The product flew from the shelves in no time.

Launch the attack on as narrow a front as possible

The offensive warfare is often done by smaller players who have brands spread over some States but not pan-India. Let us take a well-known example of the Haldirams brand that is very strong in a particular variety of ready to eat sweets and snacks. Today there are smaller players, particularly from T.Nadu who have tried to enter this same market and are doing quite okay. The market size is okay but it does take a long time to build a brand even in Tamil Nadu.

It does happen that the leader has huge pockets. It can spend thousands of crores on advertising and afford to keep on expanding the market. Look at the market for Hamam, the famous brand of soap from the Hindustan Unilever. However, the small players like Ponvandu have a detergent powder that claims to work well in washing machines. This product competes directly with the mighty Surf excel detergent powder. The brand value is restricted to the lower middle classes and the product competes only on the basis of the low price. It should be noted that there is some awareness of the brand but the middle classes and the upper-middle classes would not settle for the product. They would only buy the big brand.

This happens even in the restaurant business in big metros like Chennai in India. For example, the Saravanana Bhavan and the Adayar Anandha Bhavan are big players and have terrific brand value. How does a smaller player play the game and still occupy mind space among a growing mass of customers, who will hopefully keep coming back to the restaurant again and again?

Take the case of Taligai a vegetarian restaurant at Mylapore in a strategic location. It is situated bang opposite to the famous Nageswara Rao Park. It has a sound value proposition. It has preparations that do not contain either garlic or onion. The taste is extremely good. It has a distinct taste and groups of high-end customers make it to this restaurant. Hence, the game seems to be to launch an offensive war by being totally different, catering to a niche. It does mean that the attack was on a narrow front, but the aim is to build a brand that is seemingly different. The customers in Mylapore are normally drawn from surrounding areas like Adayar and Mandeveli. The word of mouth publicity has helped too.

The fierce war between the market leader called Sun Tv and the second most famous tv channel called Vijay Tv is a case in point. The latter has now come out with "Big Boss" anchored by Kamal Hassan. This is a big hit. Sun Tv has hit back with its own game shows and many serials that are quite famous. The war is also waged on the social video. There are at least twenty Youtube videos predicting what could happen next in some famous serial on Sun TV. In this fashion, there is free publicity for each serial of Sun TV. Some of the serials on Sun TV have run for years together. Vijay Tv is doing something very unique by waging an offensive war of sorts.


Given the complexities of corporate welfare, some principles of Offensive warfare seem particularly relevant in Indian conditions. Some examples have been discussed in the aforesaid paragraphs.


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