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The dangers of comparative advertising

News, 25 September 2015

NEW YORK: Even though a brand may feel empowered by its category leadership, comparative advertising may not work to the product's advantage, according to a new study in the Journal of Advertising Research.

In The Effectiveness of Comparative Versus Non-Comparative Advertising: Do 'Strictly' Comparative Ads Hurt Credibility of Non-Professional Service Brands?, Dr. Fred Beard, professor of advertising in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma, examines the practice of presumed brand building that crosses both legacy and interactive media.

By assessing the real-market achievements of major advertisers, Beard found, "the potential for negative outcomes of [comparative advertising] are a very real possibility when prominent brands choose to go head to head using strictly comparative advertising campaigns."

Balancing that learning, however, is the notion that target-audience age should be every bit as much of a factor as comparative claims.

Dr. Beard's analysis of comparative advertisements between two auto-industry brands (Ford and Chevrolet), for instance, uncovered a significant interaction between age and advertisement type.

"Younger subjects responded similarly to the non-comparative and comparative treatments across four of the five advertising outcomes," he reported.

"Older subjects responded significantly more favorably toward the non-comparative treatment than the younger ones did."

The University of Oklahoma professor concludes: "Prominent brand advertisers should be wary about using strictly comparative advertising, even that which could be considered low in negativity, and especially if older consumers are the target audience.

"The possibility that services consumers follow a fourth hierarchy-of-effects process –feel/do/learn – further suggests how serious negative affective and conative consumer responses might be for services advertisers especially.

"The role that comparative – versus non-comparative – advertising may play in helping to shape consumer attitudes and perceptions of the value of a purchase likely is similar for both traditional services and manufactured goods."

Additionally, Dr. Beard noted, "Although in this study there was no attempt to measure backlash, the low believability and other negative responses to the comparative treatment are consistent with how the concept has been measured in the political-advertising literature."

Data sourced from Warc