Last Updated: November 24, 2020

In the 1960s, the Harley Davidson motorcycle company emerged from near-bankruptcy to dominate the market with an aggressive business strategy. Cheaper, faster bikes from foreign manufacturers, especially those based in Japan, were becoming the preferred motorcycles of American bikers, much to the dismay of Harley

A new, dynamic plan of action on Harley’s part turned simple marketplace competition into all-out war. Harley began spreading the idea that America was simply a dumping ground for over-produced Japanese import bikes, while at the same time crafting an image and mythos surrounding its own brand. The foreign bikes were sleek, fast, and cheap, while a Harley remained stark, heavy, and pricey.

Rather than reject these associations, Harley embraced them, turning the image of a tough-looking, leather-clade man on a motorcyle into an icon for the company. This decision to concentrate on the unique features of its products while pointing out what the competition’s product lacked made Harley a household name and put it on track to decades of profit.

By 2001, not only was Harley Davidson on a domestic earning spree with more than half of the total market share, it also went overseas to become the top-selling heavy-class motorcycle in Japan. With decades of supporting data, it’s safe to say that Harley’s agressive marketing strategy is one of most successful examples of offensive marketing in history.

What is offensive marketing?

When more than one company offers the same kind of product, each company only receives a percentage of all sales of that kind of product. This percentage is called a “market share,” and any effort to take some of the market share away from one company and bring it to another is called an offensive marketing plan. (See also Flanking Marketing)

In the above case of the motorcycle business of the mid-to-late 20th century, the Harley Davidson Company saw its market share declining while its competitors, like the Japanese company Honda and the Italian company Ducati, started to control more of the market, especially in the United States. Harley used an offensive marketing strategy to convince consumers that its competitor’s motorcycles were inferior while simultaneously romanticizing the unique features of Harley’s motorcycles. This proactive, image-driven campaign was designed to not only grow Harley Davidson’s business, but also shrink the business of its competitors.

Harley Davidson Sales Climb

Harley Davidson was king of the American motorcycle business by the end of the 1980s, but their business continued to boom as their image campaign continued into the 1990s and beyond.

Who uses offensive marketing?

Any organization that is in direct competition with another organization is likely to use offensive marketing strategies.

Offensive Marketing Narratives

An offensive marketing campaign is a story a business tells to its customers. It needs to have a consistent, clear narrative such as,

  • Our competitor’s product is cheap, but ours is high-quality.
  • Our local business is connected with the community, unlike our large, impersonal competitor.
  • Our company gives you more than our competitor does for the same amount of money.
  • Our product is healthy while our competitor’s product is bad for your health.

In the business sector, offensive marketing attempts to reach customers who either already prefer a competing company or customers who are undecided about which business they will support in future purchases.

A prominent example of this includes the infamous “Burger Wars” period when several fast food chain restaurants created advertising campaigns that directly referenced and disparaged their competitors. In one print advertisement from 1998, Burger King promoted a new sandwich called the Big King that was meant to attack the most popular sandwich at McDonald’s with the phrase, “Like a Big Mac, except it’s got 75 percent more beef– and it’s flame-broiled.”

Political campaigns can be viewed as a competition between two or more “businesses” where votes stand in for profit. If there are two candidates running for the same office, the candidate who captures the majority of the market share of voters will win.

Political campaigns are well known for using “attack ads” designed to compare one candidate or issue to an opposing candidate or issue to create a stark contrast and influence the way people vote. For example, in the 2012 U.S. presidential election, numerous political action committees created attack ads disparaging both presidential candidates.

Using offensive marketing strategies

Offensive marketing can be a complex endeavor because a business not only has to effectively communicate the appeal of its own product, but must also understand the strengths and weaknesses of a competitor’s product. (See also Defensive Marketing)

No Need to Get Specific

When Hefty brand garbage bags debuted their famous “Hefty, hefty, hefty. Wimpy, wimpy, wimpy” ad campaign in the 1980s, they didn’t call out their competitors by name. They played to their product’s chief advantage (made from stronger material) while suggesting that all of their competitors sold “wimpy” bags that would break easily. They didn’t need to do a full comparison campaign, only a general offensive campaign. This made their product a part of the pop culture vernacular for an entire generation.

The first step in creating an effective offensive marketing campaign is to identify the competitor’s advantages and disadvantages. For a focused campaign, the competitor’s product’s strengths must be downplayed or ignored while emphasizing weakness.

For example, imagine two hat shops compete for the same customers in a single town. If Shop A wants to take some of the market share from Shop B, Shop A should ignore the fact that Shop B has lower prices. Instead, Shop A could suggest that its own hats are high-quality, while suggesting that Shop B sells low-quality hats.

Businesses should closely monitor the effects of offensive marketing campaigns, and survey consumers for their views on the campaign. A business should also closely follow any change in its own market share during the campaign to determine if the specific materials used in the campaign have had the intended effect.

Careers in offensive marketing

Offensive marketing requires a mix of technical and creative expertise, so there are a variety of career paths that often intersect with offensive marketing strategies.

Market Research Analyst

What do they do?

Offensive Marketing Salaries

  • Market Research Analyst
    Starting: $39,000
    Median: $51,000
    Top Earners: $65,000
  • Copywriter
    Junior: $28,000
    Senior: $55,200
    Top Earners: $109,000
  • Marketing Manager
    Starting: $41,480
    Median: $83,890
    Top Earners: $166, 400

Source: and the Bureau of Labor Statistics

It is vital to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both a business and its competitors when using offensive marketing tactics. Market research analysts gather and communicate data about such things as market share distribution, consumer behavior, and product appeal, all of which are very important metrics in an offensive marketing campaign.

Education and Skills

Market research analysts should have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, or statistical analysis. This job requires high computer literacy and the ability to communicate technical data in a simple, easy-to-understand way. It can also be helpful to have previous experience in analytics or information technology.


What do they do?

When attempting to sway the opinions of potential customers, a clear, memorable message is vital. Copywriters specialize in the creation of text, taglines, scripts, and other materials that shape the narrative of a marketing campaign.

Education and Skills

A copywriter should have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, English, or communications. This position requires excellent written and verbal communication skills, as well as the ability to be creative in a high-pressure environment. A strong portfolio of work samples, either from a former employer or created specifically for the portfolio, should be a standard attachment to all resumes for copywriting jobs.

Marketing Manager

What do they do?

Because offensive marketing requires close coordination between technical, data-focused professionals and creative, content-focused professionals, a good manager is important for smooth communication and efficient use of time within the marketing team. Managers need to have a strong understanding of every aspect of the campaign and always keep the team on-task.

Education and Skills

Marketing managers need to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, usually in marketing or business. An advanced degree, like a Master of Business Administration, can be a great advantage. Previous experience in marketing for anyone in a management role is mandatory in most companies.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Aspiring marketing professionals who are interested in learning about the details of offensive marketing strategies can hone their skills and knowledge through marketing programs across the country. These specialized programs concentrate on the history, technology, and applied concepts of marketing to prepare tomorrow’s experts for successful careers.

The technical aspects of offensive marketing will be covered in software training and data analysis courses. These classes teach marketing students how maintain databases, create prediction models for market trends, and design websites for any company or campaign.

Creative and administrative courses like Fundamentals of Management and Brand Management also give a strong foundation to those interested in learning how to oversee a full campaign or communicate a product’s strengths to customers.

Being armed with the tools and techniques provided by a good education, marketing professionals will be ready to go on the offensive for any employer, from the smallest mom-and-pop business to a Fortune 500 corporation.