Resource Center > Business > What tactics do competitors use in smear campaigns?

What tactics do competitors use in smear campaigns?

by Rockey Simmons

Two men covered in mud face off on a muddly field.

To gain a strategic advantage in the often-merciless business world, competitors sometimes resort to smear campaigns to tarnish their rivals’ reputations.

But what tactics do these rivals employ to effectively execute such campaigns? That’s exactly what you’re going to learn today.

This article sheds light on the deceptive techniques employed by competitors to carry out smear campaigns that manipulate the perceptions of consumers and other key stakeholders.

Understanding these tactics—from spreading false information to launching personal attacks—is fundamental for businesses seeking to protect their brand integrity and navigate the treacherous waters of their competitive landscape.

Defamation tactics

Some competitors resort to unethical means to gain an upper hand over their rivals.

One such reprehensible stratagem is the use of defamation tactics, which involve spreading false information or making baseless accusations to tarnish the reputation of a competitor.

This maneuver aims to harm an individual or company by undermining the public’s trust in them, ultimately damaging their credibility.

False accusations

Unscrupulous actors often employ false accusations, which involve fabricating stories and presenting them as facts.

For example, they may accuse their rivals of engaging in unethical practices, illegal activities, or other types of misconduct in hopes of causing severe and long-lasting reputational damage to their opponents’ brands.

Rumors and gossip

Another defamation tactic competitors often employ in smear campaigns is the spreading of rumors and gossip.

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In some instances, competitors might initiate or circulate unfounded stories or hearsay about their rivals, intentionally targeting vulnerable aspects of a competitor’s personal and professional life.

These rumors, fueled by the public’s curiosity and desire for juicy details, can quickly spread like wildfire, damaging the targeted individual or organization’s reputation and credibility.

Misrepresentation of facts

By deliberately distorting information or cherry-picking data, competitors can manipulate the narrative to suit their own agendas.

Misrepresentation of facts can take various forms, including selectively highlighting negative aspects of a competitor’s performance, deliberately misstating their achievements, or deliberately presenting information out of context. This tactic aims to sow doubt and cast aspersions on the integrity and capabilities of the targeted party.

Character attacks

In an attempt to weaken the credibility and trustworthiness of their competitors, some rivals resort to character attacks. These attacks call into question the personal integrity and reputation of individuals associated with the targeted company, with the intent of damaging their professional standing and public perception.

Personal insults

Character attacks often involve personal insults aimed at key figures within a competitor’s organization. Malicious competitors may resort to name-calling, making derogatory statements, or spreading false information about these individuals’ personal lives. By attacking their character, integrity, or competence, they hope to diminish their influence and undermine their abilities.

Highlighting past mistakes

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One common character attack tactic employed in smear campaigns is the highlighting of past mistakes. In this scenario, competitors dig into the history of their rivals, searching for any missteps, failures, or controversies.

By constantly reminding the public of these mistakes and portraying them as indicative of a consistent pattern of poor judgment or incompetence, competitors aim to tarnish their rivals’ reputations and erode consumers’ trust in their abilities.

Questioning integrity

Smear campaigns often involve questioning the integrity of a competitor or its leadership team. For example, competitors may insinuate or outright claim that their rivals demonstrate unethical behavior, lack of professionalism, or dishonesty.

By casting doubt on the moral compass and credibility of their competitors, malicious actors hope to undermine the public’s trust in their rivals’ products, services, and overall business practices.

Negative advertising

Negative advertising is a widely recognized tactic competitors use to gain an advantage in their market. While not inherently unethical, this practice can become problematic when it descends into smear campaigns that rely on fear, manipulation, and distortion to tarnish a competitor’s image.

Attack ads

Attack ads are a form of negative advertising used in smear campaigns. These advertisements specifically target a competitor, focusing on its perceived weaknesses, failures, or controversial aspects.

They highlight these shortcomings in a way that appeals to consumers’ emotions, often aiming to instill fear, doubt, or anger in the audience’s minds. The goal is to drive potential customers away from the targeted company and toward the attacker.

Comparative ads

Comparative advertising is another avenue competitors may exploit to create a negative perception of their rivals. These ads strategically contrast the products, services, or performance of their competitors against their own, emphasizing any perceived disadvantages of the competitor. While legitimate comparative advertising can provide consumers with valuable information, smear campaigns may exaggerate or manipulate these comparisons to portray the targeted company in an unfavorable light.


Fear-mongering is a manipulative negative advertising tactic designed to exploit people’s anxieties and concerns. Competitors engaging in smear campaigns may use fear tactics to associate their rivals with undesirable outcomes, dangers, or other negative consequences. This manipulation seeks to persuade potential customers that choosing the targeted company will result in harm, loss, or regret.

By preying on people’s fears, they hope to steer consumers away from their rivals and toward their own offerings.


Astroturfing is a deceptive tactic that involves creating the illusion of grassroots support or genuine public opinion to manipulate people’s perceptions and influence their decision-making. In some cases, competitors employ astroturfing to undermine their rivals’ reputations. Other times, they use it to artificially enhance their own standing in the eyes of the public.

Creating fake grassroots movements

One astroturfing tactic used in smear campaigns is the creation of fake grassroots movements. In these schemes, competitors fabricate or manipulate online communities, social media accounts, or public demonstrations to make it appear there is widespread support or opposition to their competitors. By giving the false impression of organic popular sentiment, they hope to persuade consumers, policymakers, or other stakeholders to align with their interests and view their rivals unfavorably.

Purchasing fake online reviews

Competitors engaging in astroturfing may resort to purchasing fake online reviews to denigrate their rivals’ reputations. By paying for positive reviews for themselves and negative reviews for their competitors, they deceive potential customers who rely on online reviews for guidance. These fake reviews can be highly damaging, eroding consumer trust in the targeted company and steering customers toward the attacker.

Using bots and trolls

Competitors involved in smear campaigns may employ automated bots or paid “trolls” to spread false information and manipulate online discussions.

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These bots and trolls masquerade as real users, spreading rumors, amplifying negative narratives, and suppressing positive sentiment about their rivals. By flooding online platforms with misleading content and creating the illusion of widespread negativity or support, they hope to shape public opinion and tarnish their competitors’ reputations.

Selective quoting and editing

Selective quoting and editing is another deceptive tactic competitors use to misrepresent their rivals’ views, statements, or actions. By selectively choosing and altering communications from (and about) their competitors, they aim to create a distorted narrative that casts those businesses in a negative light.

Taking quotes out of context

Competitors engaging in smear campaigns may cherry-pick specific quotes from their rivals and deliberately present this language out of context to create a misleading impression. By selectively focusing on isolated statements, they warp the brand’s intended meaning or misrepresent its overall message, thereby deceiving the audience and distorting the truth to fit a preconceived narrative. This tactic can significantly damage the reputation and credibility of the targeted party.

Misrepresenting views

The misrepresentation of views involves deliberately distorting or misinterpreting the opinions, ideas, or positions of a competitor. For example, competitors may take a rival’s public stance on a particular issue and twist it to make it appear extreme, unethical, or incompatible with society’s best interests. This tactic aims to discredit competitors’ ideas and alienate potential supporters who rely on accurate information to make informed decisions.

Selective video editing

Smear campaigns often employ selective video editing to manipulate footage and create false impressions. Good ways to do this include splicing together disjointed clips or selectively excluding key segments to create a distorted version of the truth. By altering the sequence or context of events, competitors can paint their rivals in a negative light and mislead viewers. This tactic capitalizes on the persuasive power of visual media and the assumption that videos offer an objective representation of reality.

Whisper campaigns

Whisper campaigns involve secretly spreading false information about a competitor. Instead of a company proudly running ads under its own brand, whisper campaigns rely on anonymity to take down an opponent.

By avoiding direct attribution, bad actors can complicate the process of fact-checking and undermine the targeted company’s ability to publicly address and counter false narratives.

Gossip from anonymous sources

Another tactic businesses employ in whisper campaigns is the circulation of gossip from anonymous sources.

Competitors may fabricate or exaggerate stories, attributing them to undisclosed sources or industry insiders.

These stories are often designed to sow doubt, create internal turmoil, or damage the reputation of key individuals within targeted organizations.

Creating doubt and suspicion

Whisper campaigns ultimately seek to create doubt and suspicion within the targeted organization or among its stakeholders. They rely on the assumption that doubt can erode confidence, fracture partnerships, and weaken unity.

Competitors may strategically plant seeds of suspicion, raising questions about the integrity, trustworthiness, or competence of their rivals. By exploiting human tendencies to question and mistrust, they hope to disrupt the targeted company’s operations and tarnish its reputation.

Infiltration and sabotage

In extreme cases, competitors may resort to infiltration and sabotage to gain a competitive advantage. These tactics involve covert actions aimed at gathering confidential information, stealing trade secrets, or disrupting a competitor’s operations.

Planting spy employees

It sounds far-fetched right? Like a movie plot. But it happens.

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In some instances, competitors may attempt to infiltrate a rival company by planting employees who act as undercover agents. These spies gather sensitive information, such as client lists, future strategies, or proprietary technologies, to provide their employers with a competitive edge. By exploiting inside knowledge, competitors can adapt their own tactics, products, or services to counter their rivals, leaving the targeted company at a disadvantage.

Stealing intellectual property

Another form of sabotage employed by competitors is the theft of intellectual property. Competitors may intentionally target a rival’s trade secrets, patents, or copyrighted materials, seeking to gain insight into their proprietary innovations or business strategies. By depriving the targeted company of its intellectual property and potentially using it against them, malicious actors aim to impede their competitors’ ability to innovate, attract clients, or maintain market dominance.

Social media manipulation

The widespread influence of social media platforms has made them prime targets for competitors seeking to manipulate public opinion and shape narratives to their advantage. Competitors may employ various tactics to deceive, mislead, or coerce online users, utilizing these platforms as fertile grounds for smear campaigns.

Creating fake accounts

Creating and utilizing fake social media accounts is a tactic commonly employed by malicious competitors engaging in smear campaigns. By establishing bogus profiles, competitors can present a false sense of support or opposition to their rivals, controlling the narrative and influencing public opinion. These accounts may engage in controversial discussions, spread false information, or launch targeted attacks on the targeted company or its key personnel.

Spreading false information

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Social media manipulation often involves the deliberate spread of false information. Competitors may create and share misleading or doctored content, such as fake news articles, manipulated images, or fabricated stories, to discredit their rivals. Given the ease with which information can be shared on social media, false narratives can quickly gain traction, potentially causing significant damage to a company’s reputation and public perception.

Organized trolling

Organized trolling refers to the coordinated efforts of malicious actors to harass, intimidate, or provoke individuals associated with a competitor. These trolls can often operate under the direction or influence of a competitor, systematically attack the targeted company’s social media profiles, website, or public forums. Their objective is to create a hostile environment, stifle constructive conversations, and alienate potential customers or partners.

Competitors engaging in smear campaigns may enlist the help of influencers to publicly criticize or discredit their rivals. By leveraging the influencer’s established reputation and credibility, competitors aim to sway public opinion, diminishing the reputation and standing of their competitors’ brand, products, or services. This tactic often relies on the assumption that the followers of these influencers will unquestioningly accept their opinions as trustworthy and unbiased.

Promoting negative content

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Competitors may pay influencers to promote negative content about their rivals. This content can take various forms, including critical reviews, testimonials of dissatisfied customers, or articles highlighting alleged failures of the targeted company. By amplifying negative narratives through influential channels, competitors hope to tarnish their rivals’ reputation and discourage potential customers from engaging with their products or services.

Manipulating public opinion

Paid influencers can be powerful tools for manipulating public opinion in favor of a competitor. By selectively presenting information, highlighting perceived shortcomings of a brand’s rivals, and amplifying negative sentiment, influencers can sway the opinions and attitudes of their followers. Competitors may use this tactic to shape public perception, adapt the narrative to suit their agenda, and ultimately gain a competitive advantage.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, smear campaigns and unethical tactics employed by competitors in the business world can have devastating effects on both individuals and organizations.

From false accusations and character attacks to negative advertising and social media manipulation, these tactics can erode trust, damage reputations, and undermine the integrity of the marketplace.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of one of these smear campaigns and need to repair your online reputation. Start with your free reputation report card.

All you do is fill out a few questions and instantly get a real-time grade and report of how the internet views you. It’s indispensable information that enables your business to remain vigilant and prioritize how to navigate reputational challenges effectively.

This post was contributed by Rockey Simmons, founder of SaaS Marketing Growth.