Energy Bar Brawl: Why Kind Bar’s Negative Ad Misses The Mark

Pepsi versus Coke. McDonald’s versus Burger King. Chevy versus Ford. Nike versus Adidas. 

Kind Bar versus Clif Bar. 

While it may not be a top-level brand fight yet, the energy bar competitors have been marketing heavily on negative energy. That’s a bad call right now. 

There are some brands that exist only as an antithesis to one another. They have spent decades cultivating a following, building loyalties, and recruiting new adherents like true disciples of capitalism. It’s why Nike spends billions signing LeBron James; if they didn’t, Adidas would. It’s why my uncle made me park at the end of their driveway when I drove a Ford Focus; his entire family only drives GM vehicles. 

Many of these marquee brands have balancing marketing their own merits with attacking their rivals. Some of these campaigns have worked, while others haven’t. Bud Light’s Super Bowl ad, accusing competitors of brewing with corn syrup, did little to shift the needle in terms of market share. That may be a result of the market; perhaps beer-drinkers aren’t quite so worried about their health as, say, gym nerds who count steps, calories, and weekly workout time. 

It’s a curious parallel, then, to the recent string of ads from the energy bar company, Kind. They’ve been running ads across a number of platforms featuring unimpressed snackers holding up a Clif Bar wrapper. Instead of taking a bite, the hungry actors pour out brown rice syrup, apparently the number one ingredient in the energy bars. Kind, of course, would never dream of contaminating their bars with such a substance. 

The move comes as Kind is desperately trying to break into the fitness or energy bar market. That’s been Clif’s bread and butter (neither of which are actual ingredients) for years now, and they’re strong leaders in a category that grew 17% since 2015 and is now worth over $8 billion. Kind is a somewhat distant third in terms of market share, in spite of the fact they’ve been investing heavily in the space for a number of years. 

While the strategy appears sound, the timing may not be smart. For months, consumers have been browbeaten by negative campaign ads from both political parties. In a world already experiencing additional stress and anxiety from the pandemic and its economic fallout, even 30-second spots might be too much. Even done right, there’s a sense that bickering between something so petty as a snack will fall on deaf ears. When your customers’ health is at the mercy of mask wearers and vaccines, brown rice syrup may not register.