How to manage the intensity of comparison in comparative advertising over time

JangSun Hwang
University of Tenessee, Knoxville


During the past quarter century, comparative advertising (CA) has been one of the most popular advertising message formats in the USA since the Federal Trade Commission's informal encouragement of explicit comparisons in 1972 (Barry 1993b). While numerous research efforts have been devoted to this area, the majority of CA studies have explored the effectiveness of CA by contrasting CA with noncomparative advertising (NCA). Although, according to the large body of extant empirical research, the effectiveness of CA seems to be equivocal, most researchers concur that CA is more effective than NCA under certain conditions. The CA research seems to be exhausted in terms of finding critical variables that influence consumers' responses (for excellent summaries see Barry 1993a; Barry 1993b; Grewal et al. 1997). Previous CA studies fall under the combinations of three kinds of variable, as shown in Table 1. Dependent variables may be classified as the three broad categories of consumer responses: cognitive, affective and behavioural. Independent variables may be categorised as either external or internal. The former is beyond the control of CA execution itself (e.g. product types, market position). The latter may be modified and controlled by CA executions (e.g. source credibility, characteristic of information).

Table 1: major variables of ca studies


Representative studies

Dependent variables

  • Attention
  • Awareness (recall)
  • Information processing
  • Believability
Barry & Tremblay (1975); Wilkie & Farris (1875); Prasad (1976); Pride et al. (1979); Jain & Hackleman (1978); Grossbart et al. (1986); Pechmann & Stewart (1990).
  • Attitude towards the as
  • Attitude towards the product
Shimp & Dyer (1978); Swinyard (1981); Etgar & Goodwin (1982); Muehling (1987); Droge (1989); Muehling et al. (1990).
  • Intention to purchase
Shimp & Dyer (1978); Iyer (1988); Droge (1989).

Independent variables

Product type
  • Function vs. psychological
  • Involvement (high vs. low)
Etgar & Goodwin (1977); McDougall (1978); Ash & Wee (1983); Droge (1989); Muehling et al. (1990).
Market position
  • Lowshare
  • New vs. existing
Droge & Darmon (1987); Iyer (1988); Pechmann & Stewart (1990); Gnepa (1993); Auken & Adams (1998).
  • CA usage (dominant vs. rare)
Donthu (1998).
Source credibility
  • High vs. low
Kelly (1972); Bodewyn & Marton (1978); Belch (1981); Gotlieb & Sarel (1991).
Message type
  • Onesided vs. twosided
Swinyard (1981); Etgar & Goodwin (1982).
Types of comparison
  • Superiority vs. parity
Buchanan & Smithies (1989).
* External variables: variables out with the CA execution.
** Internal variables: variables controlled by the CA execution.