Rivalry works

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Marketers of a No. 1 brand often ponder the benefits of adding the market's No. 2 brand to its portfolio. For one, there would be no more sleepless nights about No. 2 stealing market share. But No. 1 often benefits from a feisty No. 2. Consider the fallout from World Wrestling Federation Entertainment's takeover of nemesis World Champi-onship Wrestling.

Competition, by fostering innovation and keeping prices in check, is good for customers. But assuming that lack of competition is a nifty thing for marketers does not follow. True, if it buys a rival, a leader can cut costs, perhaps raise prices, more efficiently serve its market and, in the end, maximize profits. In a world where top marketers, agencies and media are consolidating, the theory is bigger must be better.

WWF's experience with WCW, however, raises a question about whether taking over No. 2 is always the right move. As our story noted last week, WWF became a No. 1 brand in good part by positioning itself against its rival, the WCW. "Wrestling is far more interesting when people think there's competition," a category watcher explained. Then WWF in March bought WCW from AOL Time Warner, with the plan to keep it as a separate franchise. But wrestling fans figured out there's no real rivalry when evil merges with empire.

Maybe WWF will find a creative solution; after all, it long ago learned how to get fans worked up over make-believe, choreographed wrestling matches. But in a world of consolidating brands, this gives us pause. Coke needs Pepsi. Hertz needs Avis. Time needs Newsweek. Rivalries are beneficial because they give No. 1 brands the competition they need to keep them sharp. That's good for business.

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