Comparative advertising is a common technique for brands looking to differentiate themselves directly from their competitors; you’ve likely noticed this type of advertising in media before. Comparative advertising can occur both directly and indirectly – direct involving an explicit mention of the competitor brand’s name, while indirect refers to the competitor as something like ‘Brand X’ (Dianoux, Herrmann and Zeitoun, 2013). Brands need to be careful when using comparative advertising campaigns, as there can be serious repercussions for making potentially misleading statements.
To be considered a fair comparison, brands should be compared like for like, in that an ad doesn’t indicate the superiority of one brand over another simply by omitting certain details of one brand. The same concept applies to all measurements and quantifiable aspects of compared brands and their products – a fair comparison would require these to be measured by the same criteria, on the same scale. Failing to objectively compare brands in marketing material will likely result in trouble for the company responsible.
The above ad from Samsung is an example of comparative advertising done right. The ad focuses primarily on the features and functions of Samsung’s device and briefly features a direct comparison with Apple’s iPhone (the current model at the time). This functions as an example of comparative advertising done correctly, as the ad demonstrates the advantages of Samsung’s product over Apple’s well-known market leader, while avoiding any misrepresentation of its competitor. The ad also generated talk amongst users on social media, contributing to its effectiveness in market penetration and sales (England, 2017).
Example of poor comparative ad with repercussions: American Home Products’ advertisement for Anacin, a pain-relief medication. The ad claimed “For pain other than headache, Anacin reduces the inflammation that comes with the pain. These [Tylenol, Datril] do not.” In response to this ad, their competitor Johnson & Johnson, owner of the Tylenol brand, challenged the company in court; citing that the ad makes false claims of superiority (Buchanan and Goldman, 2017). The claim was eventually ruled in favour of Johnson & Johnson, concluding that the ad was, in fact, likely misleading to consumers.
This highlights the heightened level of attention to detail a company must undergo when designing and reviewing comparative advertising campaigns, as their ad will be under intense scrutiny from the competitors referenced therein.
Another form of comparative advertising involves a brand taking advantage of a negative situation another brand may be in to create a message of superiority about their own brand. Examples of this include a Paypal banner ad that appeared in the wake of Apple’s iCloud leak incident, whereby many high-profile celebrity users of the service had their accounts accessed and private photos leaked. Paypal’s ad in response to this mentioned “We the people want our money safer than our selfies”, implying that Paypal’s security is superior in protecting user’s data than Apple’s. Since this is a verifiable, objective statement, Paypal is in the clear provided their security really is more effective in this regard. Had this not been true, their brand would be under fire, likely by Apple, for false comparison. While there aren’t exactly specific rules and regulations towards comparative ads in particular, it adds another layer of risk in making sure the company does not misrepresent their own brand or those of any competitor(s) mentioned.
Dianoux, C., Herrmann, J. and Zeitoun, H., 2013. Comparative advertising: citing or not the leading brand and its price. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 30(4), pp.345-354.
Samsung, 2015. Samsung Galaxy S4 vs iPhone Ad. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Klv1Map2UY> [Accessed 2 May 2017].
England, L., 2017. Samsung has gone back to bashing Apple in its new ads for the Galaxy S6 Edge. [online] Business Insider Australia. Available at: <https://www.businessinsider.com.au/samsung-attacks-apples-iphone-6-in-galaxy-s6-edge-ad-2015-6> [Accessed 6 Jun. 2017].
Buchanan, B. and Goldman, D., 2017. Us vs. Them: The Minefield of Comparative Ads. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: <https://hbr.org/1989/05/us-vs-them-the-minefield-of-comparative-ads> [Accessed 2 May 2017].
Drugs.com, 2017. Anacin AF Pill. [image] Available at: <https://www.drugs.com/images/pills/fio/IN310300.JPG> [Accessed 2 May 2017].