We all know that brands want to know what their competitors do or will do, so that they can do better than them or do it before them. It’s called competitor and strategic monitoring. But some big brands decided one day to tell publicly what they found out (when it was in their favor of course). For instance, they announced that for the same product, people could buy it for less at their shops rather than at their competitors’.
But according to law, what is comparative advertising? What can be done and what is forbidden?
The first case of comparative advertising was in 1910: it was the Saxlehner vs Wagner case. Justice confirmed the right of a mineral water seller to use its competitor’s trademark and honestly tell the public that he was selling water with the exact same content than the trademarked water.
In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc. (NAD) govern the laws of comparative advertising. It includes the treatment of comparative advertising claims. The FTC declared that comparative advertising could be good for consumers and encourages this practice. The conditions are that the comparisons should have been “clearly identified, truthful, and non-deceptive”.
In Europe, every advertisement which, explicitly or implicitly, identifies a competitor or some competitor’s goods or services, is comparative advertising. The European Commission watches that the concerned ads aren’t misleading.
Now let’s see some examples of what the brands are ready to do to convince the audience they are better.
Pepsi VS Coca-Cola
The most famous brand for this kind of acting is Pepsi against Coca-Cola. The n°2 always had the ambition to become n°1, but the leader Coca-Cola just keeps ignoring the attacks.
Already in 1985, Pepsi attacked Coca-Cola with this ad: a future where only Pepsi exists!
Pepsi just went on and on with this marketing strategy. In 2005, they went too far for Coca-Cola who asked for the withdrawal of this ad:
The campaign was declined on many visuals with the baseline “The joy of Pepsi”.
But actually, choosing between Coca-Cola and Pepsi is just a matter of taste, isn’t it ?
Burger King VS McDonald’s
Here is another famous duo who likes to mess with each other. The difference is that McDonald’s doesn’t ignore Burger King’s attacks and even enjoys responding to them.
Already in 1986, BK attacked MD with this ad:
In 2002, Ronald was caught in a BK restaurant as a loyal customer…
… but McDonald’s showed the « king » stealing one of their recipes:
Two years ago, MD broadcast an ad which brought troubles:
Burger King thought the ad was degradind and said that « McDonald’s has broken the rules of comparative advertising by degrading the Burger King brand in the TV commercial ‘Packaging’« .
In a totally different type, Burger King made a video as a documentary where we can see people who never ate hamburgers in their life. They made them taste a Whooper and a Big Mac. I let you guess who wins or you can discover it here.
Banks and Supermarkets
In Australia, the NAB (National Australian Bank) “broke up” with its competitors. It actually happened on Valentine’s Day 2011 through a letter and by helicopter as well! The NAB succeeded in differentiating itself from the other big banks, it signed up its one millionth new customer in July 2012, 17 months after the beginning of its “break-up” campaign (to find out all about the campaign, click here).
It has been a success, and I think it’s because they were really original. They humanized the bank and showed their strengths and weaknesses. They implied storytelling in their ad and that is what it talked to many people.
In France, the practice is more recent, because of the laws and the culture. Most of the comparative ads are made by big retail companies such as Carrefour, E.Leclerc or Auchan. They are more about prices as you can see here:
E.Leclerc suggests an app to find where the products are less expensive (at E.Leclerc’s of course!).
The woman whispers the competitors’ name, but Carrefour says out loud that they can assure they are cheaper.
But I think, the price for a same product can be different even with the same brand, it just depends on the time and place where you buy it… So for me, that kind of argumentation is not efficient.
The comparative advertising in general can’t guarantee a success. If it’s done cleverly, with humor or smart arguments, the public can be convinced. But if the brand is just mean to its competitor or has groundless remarks, the impact can be negative and the audience will keep a bad image of the brand. It has to be done carefully.
And you, what do you think of this concept? Do you like this type of advertising or does it bother you?