Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

Competitive Stupidity - Case Studies on the Art of Intelligence Failures

The fabulous active dialog session at SCIP 09 on CI 2020 (thanks again, Arik and Craig!) produced several great insights - not only on the future of our business but also on our current practice. I would like to pick up and develop one of those insights.

The problem: For good reasons, we have a professional reluctance towards success stories - what makes it a really hard task to do PR for CI as a profession and a discipline (and, by the way, is one of the reasons for those popular "are we in a rut"-discussions).

My suggestion: let's build up a body of knowledge that consists of embarrassing events, disastrous decisions and funny failures due to a lack of competitive intelligence. As a template we might look at the wonderful book by Merrill R. Chapman, In Search of Stupidity.

Thus, we could kill a lot of birds with one stone: showing the importance of CI, suggesting CI research and analysis tools that could have prevented those failures easily, telling interesting war stories, providing excellent plots for Hollywood movies and showing up the competitors of our companies or clients (please don't take that too seriously...). And maybe it all ends up as a new book of the CI foundation. What do you think?

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Babette, you're always able to cheer me up! ;-) Great stuff - loved the sleep aid that may cause drowsiness and open packet / eat nuts - I laughed out loud.
Babette Bensoussan just contributed an interesting case of CS over here on a cereal manufacturer competing with Kellogs allowing the latter to enter the Australian market by disregarding the strategic implications of a possible acquisition: lawyers plus accountants minus intelligence equals failure.

Hearst Denied

James Bennett, no fan of rival publisher William Randolph Hearst, was one day irked to discover that Hearst was plotting to buy his ailing New York Herald.
Sure enough, he soon received correspondence from Hearst asking how much the newspaper would cost, and promptly sent a cable in return. His reply? "Price of Herald three cents daily. Five cents Sunday. Bennett."


Many venture capitalists firmly believe that informal measures often give a better indication of a company's fiscal health than do its official accounts. Are its parking lots full at unusual hours? Do employees promptly return their calls? Are customer service representatives doing their jobs?
Certainly few wise WorldCom customers would have invested in Bernie Ebbers's fraudulent firm: The beleaguered company received so many complaints from dissatisfied customers that the man whose signature appeared at the bottom of its customer service form letters - "Thomas Barton, vice-president of customer service" - did not exist!

Glass Menagerie?

In the mid-1950s, Bob Wolff became the voice of Madison Square Garden. "The reason I got the job," Wolff once recalled, "is that the cigar sponsor and others said to the Garden, 'You got to hire this guy; he can sell anything--not well, but he tries.'
"My first night at Madison Square Garden, they let me ad-lib the cigar ads. The big commercial was the Robert Burns Imperial, which was 25 cents, their top-of-the-line cigar in that glass tube. They told me to talk about its aroma--the smell of that fresh tobacco--and I'll never forget looking in the camera, the cigar under my nose, and saying, 'Boy, this has a wonderful fragrance and aroma. And what rich tobacco!'
"The telephones start ringing and the vice president of the ad agency said, 'Congratulations, those words were great. Just one suggestion. The next time you're talking about that cigar and its wonderful aroma, please take it out of the glass tube first.'"

Piece of Luck

In April 2003, in a bid to bring happiness and good luck to his country in a time of hardship and misery, a resourceful Japanese businessman named Koji Fujii began marketing curious lucky charms.
"Everybody wants to have a little piece of luck for himself, especially nowadays," Fujii declared. "At the moment the only news people hear is bad. From a poor economy, to scandals in politics and war."
The little piece of luck on offer? A three-inch gold-plated lump of human excrement.
Anyone, Fujii explained, would be happy to receive a "little piece of poo" as a gift. "People like products that are humorous and look nice."
Fujii's inspiration? The words for "luck" (koun) and "poo" (unko) are similar in Japanese.
General Somervell: Key Insight

One day during his tenure as chief of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA), General Somervell was confronted with a "sit-down" strike; union members took over a public building and refused to leave.
After police had tried and failed to end the strike, Somervell found a more effective (and more peaceful) solution: he locked each of the building's bathrooms - and went home with the keys. Six hours later, the strike was over.

Wood Worms

With his brother Wilson, Addison Mizner once ran an "antiquing" factory which treated wooden furniture, statuary, and other items to produce the impression of venerable age.
Wilson, showing some friends around the factory one day, handed each man an air rifle so that they too might partake of the experience of "antiquing" a relatively new dining-room suite.
"Don't shoot straight at it," Mizner directed. "Remember a worm always charges at a piece of furniture from an angle!"

Carl Sagan: BHA

Software designers often bestow pet names upon their projects. When Apple programmers named a beta (test) version of a novel software application "Sagan" in honor of the renowned astronomer Carl Sagan, the latter - incredibly - threatened to sue. Naturally, Apple backed down, renaming the application "BHA".
Only later did Sagan discover that the new name was in fact an acronym - for "Butt-Head Astronomer"!

Cavalleria Rusticana

One day an organ-grinder, stationed outside Pietro Mascagni's apartment, began playing tunes from his opera Cavalleria Rusticana at roughly half the proper speed. Irritated, the composer rushed into the street.
"I am Mascagni," he told the organ-grinder. "Let me show you how to play this music correctly." With that, he gave the organ's handle several energetic turns and retired to his room.
The next day Mascagni was irked to hear the infernal organ-grinder outside his window once again, still playing at an absurdly languid pace. The man had, however, made one significant change to his routine. Peeking out his window, Mascagni was dismayed to find, posted above the man's head, a newly-erected sign reading: "PUPIL OF MASCAGNI."

Born Every Minute?

Early in his career, P. T. Barnum created an exhibit, entitled "The Happy Family," consisting of a cage housing a lion, a tiger, a panther - and a baby lamb. The remarkable display earned Barnum unprecedented publicity and attendance figures. Some time after its opening, Barnum was asked about his plans for the happy family. "The display will become a permanent feature," he declared, "if the supply of lambs holds out."


Harold Alexander had a curious way of dealing with unfinished business: At the end of each working day, he would empty his "In" tray... into his "Out" tray, sending many unopened letters on their way.
Alexander was once asked about this peculiar habit. "It saves time," he explained. "You'd be surprised how little of it comes back!"

Donald Trump: The Donald

Shortly after the construction of the twin-towered Time Warner Center in Manhattan (home to twenty million dollar condos featuring, its owners claimed, the "most commanding view of any residences overlooking Central Park"), Donald Trump had banners hung from his own World Tower, a neighboring building to the north.
Trump's message? "Your views aren't so great, are they? We have the real Central Park views and address! Best Wishes, The Donald."

20th Century-Fox?

Despite his pioneering role as founder of Twentieth Century-Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck was not universally regarded as a revolutionary producer.
"Goodbye, Mr. Zanuck," avant-garde director Jean Renoir drily declared when his association with the studio came to an end. "And let me tell you it certainly has been a pleasure working at 16th Century-Fox."
... and then there was the one about the "No-No" Bird. The fresh Chicken with No neck, and No giblets, researched extensively with consumers, who all agreed they wanted a Fresh (as opposed to Frozen) chicken, that would keep for a week in the refrigerator, without going off, before it was cooked. A premium chicken, that was tender, moist and flavoursome. Launched with great fanfare, and promoted heavily, it failed dismally. It became the "No-No-No" bird, with No Sales as well as No Neck and No Giblets. Why? Consumers were wedded to buying chicken "on special", and would not pay a premium price - say double the frozen price. But no one had researched this element of the equation. Just everything else. An example maybe of what happens when you put a carpet salesman in charge of your chicken marketing efforts (?). Hardly CI - more a GMFU really.


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