Just one week to go until the sports event of the year (unless you’re a die-hard winter sports supporter), the FIFA World Cup. The teams are in their training camps, hardcore fans are trying to watch every training session and the press tries to find every little hint on how the teams will play, what the tactics will be, etc.
By definition the coaches have a slightly different idea. The more their opponents know, the better they will be able to adjust their play. Thus, the better the press coverage prior to the matches is, the less room for surprises is left. As surprises can play an important tactical role, some coaches try to weaken the quality of the coverage by holding secret training session without inviting the press in or by simply not accepting any interviews. Some even try the ultimate approach: Giving away wrong information on purpose.
Some of you will probably remember how Sir Alex Ferguson fielded Wayne Rooney in the return leg of the Champions League quarterfinals this year even though he declared Rooney would not be able to play due to an injury prior to the match. And even though they dropped out of the cup in this match, the surprise seems to have worked, as their opponents played a very bad first half before getting used to the new situation. It will be interesting to watch who will launch false information during the next few days of preparation for the World Cup.
But can giving away wrong information on purpose also work in the business context? Oh yes, it can. Here’s a quite prominent example from earlier this year:
On January 4, the Wall Street Journal reported that the new Apple tablet PC (now known as the iPad) would be priced at $1000 apiece. Now that the iPad has been released, actual prices range between $500 and $830, depending on the version.
One day later, John Martellaro, former Senior Marketing Manager at Apple, explained in an interview how the company creates these information leaks on purpose:
“The way it works is that a senior exec will come in and say, ‘We need to release this specific information. John, do you have a trusted friend at a major outlet? If so, call him/her and have a conversation. Idly mention this information and suggest that if it were published, that would be nice. No e-mails!’”
As a result of this, Apple can create some buzz as rumors are one of the most effective means of communicating – and in this case, Apple even controls the rumors about themselves. They can also surprise their customers in a positive way when they come up with the “official” information later that differs from what they leaked earlier.
Then, this also offers them a cheap way of doing market research. They announce a $1000 price tag, read the reactions in the media, on blogs and forums, and decide on the actual price based on this feedback. Raise your hand if you still pay tons of money for conjoint analysis.
Just like in World Cup preparation, it can also have an effect on potential competitors: They may be discouraged to start or continue an own project when they hear all the great things that Apple’s new device will be able to do – be that true or not. In a market where being perceived as the biggest innovator is an important factor for the image, the rumors will help Apple to be seen as the inventor of that new product category – no matter if someone else will finally be on the market a few days earlier or not.
As a result, Apple fans can’t wait for the new product to be launched. Soccer fans feel the same these days and are counting the hours until the first kickoff. Let’s see who’s going to surprise us and who will fool us. And as much as all the focus shifts from the rumors to the real Apple product once it is launched, all focus will shift away from what happened in the training camps to what actually happens on the pitch in South Africa.
Bottom line: Those who are well prepared will have a good launch – on the market place and in the stadium.