Is It Smart to Sue a Competitor?

In 1948, the N.W. Ayer agency came up with a terrific unique selling proposition (USP) for DeBeers, the South African diamond mining behemoth: “A diamond is forever.”

Sixty-five years later, this USP is on the DeBeers website, still imparting its message of strength and permanence.

Rosser Reeves and the Unique Selling Proposition
The USP was first articulated by Rosser Reeves (1910-1984). A great copywriter, vice president and later chairman of the board of Ted Bates and Company, Reeves was the author of “The Reality of Advertising” (1961, now out of print).

On his invaluable website,, Michael Senoff describes Reeves’ concept of the unique selling proposition. He defines a USP has having three parts:

  • Each ad must make a proposition“Buy this product and you get these benefits.”
  • The proposition must be uniquesomething your competitors do not, cannot or will not offer.
  • The proposition must sellit must be something prospects really want; it pulls them over to your product.

In essence, a Unique Selling Proposition briefly and clearly explains a single quality about your product enabling it to stand out against the competition.

For his client, M&M’s® candies, Rosser Reeves came up with: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”

Other memorable USPs:

  • “BAGS FLY FREE.” —Southwest Airlines (GSD&M, 2010)
  • “We try harder.” —Avis (Doyle, Dane Bernbach, 1983)
  • “99 and 44/100% pure.” —Ivory soap (Procter & Gamble, 1892)
  • “Look sharp, feel sharp.” —Gillette (BBDO, 1940s)
  • “The pause that refreshes.” —Coca-Cola (D’Arcy Co., 1929)
  • “Tastes great, less filling.” —Miller Lite Beer (McCann-Erickson, 1974)
  • “Does she … or doesn’t she?” —Clairol (Foote, Cone & Belding, 1957)
  • “Mmm mmm good.” —Campbell Soup (BBDO, 1930s)
  • “When it rains it pours.” —Morton salt (N.W. Ayer & Son, 1912)
  • “We’ll leave the light on for you.” —Motel 6 (Richards Group 1988)
  • “The skin you love to touch.” —Woodbbury soap, (J. Walter Thompson Co. 1911)
  • “Breakfast of Champions.” —Wheaties, (Blackett-Sample-Hummert, 1930s)

The legendary 20th century copywriter Claude Hopkins wrote, “Writing headlines is one of the greatest journalist arts.”

Creating a USP may be a greater art.

After all, a headline is for today. A USP can be forever.

Last year, Zales® The Diamond Store—the country’s third largest jewelry chain with 1,769 stores and more than 12,000 employees—came up with a nifty USP in the grand tradition of DeBeers:

The Most Brilliant Diamond in the World

Oops …
British owned Sterling Jewelers—with 1952 stores worldwide and more than 17,000 employees—took serious offense and filed suit just before Christmas.

Zales was charged with false advertising under the Lanham Act, and deceptive trade practices under the Ohio Deceptive Trade Practices Act. From Sterling’s attorneys:

Zales’ claim that it has proven its Fire diamond to be more brilliant that any other cut of diamond in the world can be true only if its Fire diamonds have been tested against every other cut of diamond in the world.

If Zales succeeds in being able to stretch its deceptive campaign through the holiday season, it will misappropriate many consumers whom Sterling will never have the opportunity to get back.

In federal court, Sterling requested an immediate injunction against Zales’ running its multimillion-dollar ad campaign plus millions of dollars in reparations.

If Zale’s USP were allowed to stand, Sterling might be forced into a public pissing match.

“Ours are just as bright!”

“Ours are brighter and we can prove it!”

Rewind to 1919: the First USP and Pre-emptive Advertising
One of the savviest and most fun Energizer bunnies in the world of marketing is an elfin figure who sports a full head of hair plus a mustache and neatly trimmed beard—West Coast wizard Jay Abraham. He charges $25,000 per person to attend one of his marketing seminars and routinely sells them out. If you decide to leave after the first day, he’ll give you all your money back. Few students take him up on it. He’s made zillions for himself—and for a legion of clients. From Jay’s website:

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

Publish date: June 25, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT