Comparative advertising is a long-established practice within the advertising industry but practitioners remain divided over its degree of effectiveness. Message strategy is crucial with comparative advertising, and leaves no room for error. The effective execution of a comparative advertisement depends on its tone, and excessive negativity or competitor exposure could be an important reason why such advertisements may conflict with positive branding. Attack-style comparative advertising should be avoided wherever possible, as negative messages about a competitor may overshadow the brand’s own message.

Definition

Comparative advertising is an advertisement in which a particular product, or service, specifically mentions a competitor by name for the express purpose of showing why the competitor is inferior to the product naming it.

Key insights

1. Comparative advertising is seen as a risky strategy

Comparative advertising emerged in the US in the 1970s, after the US Federal Trade Commission encouraged major industry associations and television networks to strike down their rules against advertising that explicitly identified competitors. The practice is US-centric - most countries outside the US have banned advertising that makes a comparison with a specific competitor (although advertisers can still reference undisclosed competitors). Today, advertising executives appear to harbour greater concern for the technique than they once did. They believe comparative advertising that explicitly identifies competitors remains a message tactic with potential for success but also significant risk of unintended and potentially negative consequences. The effective execution of a comparative advertisement depends on its tone, excessive negativity could undermine a positive branding message. Research has shown that younger consumers responded similarly to non-comparative and comparative treatments, but results showed that older consumers were less likely to purchase or recommend a service after viewing a comparative print advertisement.