Last week, Apple removed Fortnite, the world’s most popular video game from its app store.
This removal meant a chunk of Fortnites 350 million-plus gamers would no longer be able to access the game through iOS. Shortly after Apple’s removal, Google removed the game too.
The companies said Epic Games (the developers of Fortnite) had violated their terms of service. The game had launched an update that allowed players to purchase the game’s in-app currency directly, bypassing Apple and Google’s app store purchasing system (and the 30% fee they collect).
At face value, this may seem like Epic Games was put on the defensive. The terms of service are clear and Apple and Google have all the power when it comes to making these decisions. But that’s not the reality here.
The reality is Epic Games just pulled a brilliant strategic offensive move. They just made Apple their enemy and declared a public war that will be in the spotlight for years to come.
Do you think a company as big as Epic Games would get caught off guard by the fact that they were violating the rules of the app stores? This was no surprise to them. They knew this would happen. In fact, they needed it to happen. The ban was the key to kicking off their offensive strike.
Epic Games filed a lawsuit on the day of the ban. They also released an incredible parody of Apple’s brand-defining 1984 advertisement (more on that below).
Either their legal and creative teams work incredibly fast or this was a carefully calculated and perfectly timed attack on a company that made for an easy target.
Apple — and more specifically their power — is under the spotlight right now. Tim Cook just appeared in front of congress as part of their antitrust hearings, where he was grilled for the power Apple holds over the app store. Congress and critics worry Apple has too much control and that hurts developers from bringing new apps to market or sustaining the apps they already have featured.
Developers like — you guessed it — Epic Games.
The real irony of this is that this is the same tactic that Apple used to put themselves on the map in their own David vs. Goliath showdown.
Steve Jobs visiting IBM
In the 1980s, IBM controlled the personal computer market. Apple wanted to change that.
Inspired by George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which outlined a dystopian future controlled by a mega-corporation, Apple launched what’s been considered one of the greatest advertisements of all time. (Watch here if you haven’t seen it.)
The Macintosh computer went on to become a massive success, entering the market riding the buzz generated from this well-executed offensive attack against IBM.
Fortnite took this campaign and mocked it. (Watch here.)
Will this move force Apple and Google to change their ways? At the end of the day, at least from Epic Games’s perspective, who gives a shit? This move just generated brand equity that they can leverage for a long time. They don’t need to win in the courts. They’ve already won in the public’s mind.
If you go through the history of business, you find examples of this enemy-focused strategy being used across nearly every industry that exists.
The most common enemy is a competitor — like in the example of Apple vs. IBM or Epic Games vs. Apple. But it’s important to understand that company vs. company isn’t the only enemy you can have. Here are some other examples:
In the early 2000s, Salesforce declared war on software. Literally. They took out ads like the one above, staged fake protests against software companies, and even considered driving a tank through a popular software industry conference.
Founder Insight: Create an old vs. new narrative in the mind of your customers. The old generation is the way things have been done. But the next generation — your product or category — is the future.
When the Mayor of NYC tried to pass laws that would limit the number of Ubers allowed, Uber declared war (one of many that they waged on their path to success). They introduced a “De Blasio’s Uber” feature on the app that showed what would happen if they couldn’t add more drivers. Then they called users to action and contact his office. Unsurprisingly, De Blasio backed down.
Founder Insight: When you are on the bleeding edge of innovation, you will face off against regulators and, in many cases, you should probably back down. But if it’s a fight you believe you can win (and not get arrested or sued), consider dragging the battle into the public and turning your users into soldiers who will fight on your behalf.
At a 2013 shareholders meeting, Elon Musk was asked by an investor about how Tesla planned to navigate their battle with the American Dealers Association (ADA). Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales model threatened the traditional franchise dealer model. As his eyes begin to water in the video, Musk says: “If democracy was working properly and the legislatures were implementing the will of the people, there would not be legislation trying to restrict direct sales.” Every poll showed consumers were in favor of direct sales, but the powerful ADA used their lobbying power to block that from happening.
Founder Insight: As you bring a disruptive idea to market, prepare for the established ecosystem to work aggressively against you. Bring this battle into the public eye and educate them about what’s going on behind the scenes between trade associations and legislators.
For the past 50 years, kids in America were told that milk builds strong bones. Every athlete and celebrity appeared in the famous milk-mustache ads that blanketed the country. But a growing number of companies have begun to publicly question why we drink milk from cows in the first place. Oatly, one of the companies leading this charge against the dairy industry cleverly branded their movement as the post-milk generation.
Founder Insight: Guide your customers into asking themselves why they do what they do, why they believe what they believe, and behave the way they behave. When these questions are asked, oftentimes it becomes clear that things are being done because “that’s just how it’s always been,” and when that’s the reason, you’ve found your opening.
Hand-Picked Reading: A Founder’s Guide to Building a Challenger Brand
JPMorgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon doesn’t like Bitcoin. He’s made that clear. But in a 2015 letter to shareholders, he did make it clear that he had been concerned about technology-driven startups eating into their business. The letter said, “Silicon Valley is coming to eat our lunch.” We executed an idea with our long-time client Genesis Mining that played on this letter with the billboard above, that we drove around one of the biggest industry events.
Founder Insight: When your business operates in an emerging space, you need to take an advocate approach to marketing, where you focus on making the market bigger — not just your company. Genesis Mining has played a key role in driving mainstream awareness for cryptocurrencies with campaigns that went after those who stood against crypto.
Most founders talk a big game about their willingness to declare war on an enemy, but we’ve seen them bow out before the offensive even begins time and time again.
Maybe their board said it was too risky. Maybe someone from their product team said they should wait until the product’s latest feature is released. And maybe someone from the Biz Dev team said it may put potential partnerships at risk.
Blah blah blah — these are all just cowardly excuses. Companies have no problem boldly saying they intend to disrupt the market, but they seem to forget what happens to the company, industry, or idea that gets disrupted?
You don’t transform an industry and gobble up market share from established companies without eventually getting a target on your back. If you are actually disrupting your industry, eventually the incumbents will view you as the enemy and they will come after you.
Leaked emails from board members of the egg industry trade group the American Egg Board literally discussed if they should get the CEO of egg-alternative Hampton Creek killed.
Instead of waiting for them to come after you, you can go on the offensive and adopt the approach of having an enemy as a strategy from day one. This can then lead your positioning, communications, and messaging.
Most importantly, it gives your company a sense of purpose and vision. This is what customers, employees, and investors want to see. They want to join a cause and crusade to bring change. They want to follow bold leaders with bold visions.
Now is the time to bring massive change. Everything these days feels broken and now more than ever, people are asking themselves why they do certain things. Why do we travel across the country for a meeting when video will do? Why do we go into an office when we can work from anywhere just as efficiently? Why can we just print money out of thin air?
The world needs more bold founders who are willing to go to war to bring change. So If you are sitting there thinking your company can fly under the radar, know that incumbents may already have a target placed on your back or worse — another rival startup that’s not afraid to declare war will leverage this tactic and own the conversation.
Now is the time to take bold massive action. Now is the time to find your enemy and declare war.