Comparative advertising is a bold way of pitting competing brands against each other, and it can certainly be an effective way to fetch attention.

But is it the right attention? Are comparisons too big a threat for brands that want to gain favor among consumers? 

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of comparative advertising to make some informed conclusions.

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But first, we need to understand what it means.

What is Comparative Advertising?

Simply put, comparative advertising is the act of comparing one or more brands. The main goal of comparative advertisements is to communicate value, which is often done by showing how one brand is superior to a competitor brand, or other brands as a whole. 

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You have probably seen comparisons in advertising throughout your life. Remember the Mac vs. PC ads that started in the early 2000s? Mac was represented by “the cool, calm, collected guy in a hoodie” while the PC was personified as “the nerdy, awkward guy in the suit.”

Comparative Advertising Examples

After learning about the pros and cons of comparative advertising, look at a few examples of some real-life comparative advertising to understand the concept in a better way. It can also help you acknowledge how comparative advertising works in real life. 

Popeyes

Being an American fast-food chain, Popeyes capitalised on this, eschewed television advertising, and created a comparative advertisement, which helped them gain an unexpected and wildly successful spicy chicken business. After the war on Twitter for their chicken sandwich, Popeyes stopped selling and replenished their supplies. When they returned, they ditched TV marketing and shifted to the digital way, i.e., comparative advertising. They understood their competitor, Chick-fil-A's, strategy and boosted their sales on Sundays immensely. They adopted next-gen AI-powered social analytics that helped them constantly monitor their results in real-time. 

Adidas

The only prominent sports apparel brand that outshined Nike is Adidas's German multinational sportswear corporation. How did they do it? They stepped into comparative marketing and soon created a video advertisement showing a runner wearing Nike shoes in the desert. Runners are aware that it's challenging to run in such terrains. The impressive part of the video was that the cameraman could keep up with the runner carrying a ponderous camera because he was wearing Adidas shoes. 

Sprint

Sprint, the industrial competitor of Verizon, reached out to the actor in 2016 and made him switch their service to step into comparative advertising. Sprint showcased the Verizon actor, who was with the latter for 16 years for marketing and promotion. They targeted the audience by saying that if a loyal Verizon actor can switch to Sprint, why can't you? What's stopping you from adopting the change? The cellular provider stated that their cell phone service has a percent difference in coverage. That statement positioned Sprint as a more qualified competitor than Verizon. 

Bounty

Without explicitly naming their competitor, Bounty displayed the benefits of using their brand's paper towels versus the towels coming from a generic brand. Instead of convincing potential buyers of the product's superiority, they adopted comparative advertising by stating that the ordinary brand does not clean up the messes as the Bounty towels do. That way, they said they provide premium products rather than regular ones that do not clear up the mess. 

Cocoon by Sealy

One of the pioneers in the world of mattresses, Casper is valued at nearly $1 billion and became one of the best online mattresses in 2014. Its direct competitor, Sealy, used comparative advertising by claiming that its competitor is only a competitor where people buy goods for the name-brand hype. They used SERPs to target Casper's audience by placing a paid ad for Casper with the headline - Don't buy the hype, shop Cocoon, and save hundreds. When the buyer clicks on the ad, they get to know that Sealy offers worthy and affordable mattresses that offer peaceful sleep. The comparative advertising helped value Sealy and made it a trusted brand in the mattress industry. 

Kroger

At the end of 2020, Kroger made headlines when the grocery giant cliche the no. 9 spot on the list of top eCommerce companies by sales for the first time. The success's secret was the adoption of comparative newspaper advertisements against their competitor, Publix. The ad showed two recipes of the same length but with different costs. Kroger targeted the audience by stating that they provide lower-priced servings to boost savings and additional perks that customers cannot find at Publix. That led to a surprising growth in their sales where out of 120 million total US households, 60 million purchase goods from Kroger. 

After looking at the comparative advertising of the businesses mentioned above, it's crucial to understand and adopt the word - comparative. While following the path of comparative advertising, do not lay down false or misleading claims that can hinder marketing efforts. Though many countries are against it, understanding and following the comparative marketing strategies positively can save the business from the law.

Comparative Ads: Pros and Cons

Weighing the potential advantages and disadvantages of comparative advertising is smart. While you certainly want to protect your brand, there can be benefits to stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Here are a few considerations to help you decide whether it’s a road worth traveling.

The Pros 

  • Your brand can look good. One way to approach comparative advertising is to leverage your competitor’s shortcomings to your benefit — as long as you communicate how you do it better. For example, Samsung went all-in on its “Next Big Thing” campaign, cleverly demonstrating the latest phone’s edge over the new (at the time) Apple iPhone — including bigger screen size, better service, and no lines to wait in.

  • Your brand can boost awareness. There’s no doubt competitive advertising can make viewers pay attention. Especially if your brand is lesser-known, and you are making comparisons with a more well-known brand. Leveraging the market share of a familiar brand, in order to draw attention to your brand, is a classic approach to comparative advertisements. 
  • Your brand can gain more followers or customers. Of course, the ultimate goal of advertising is to increase sales or conversions, and comparisons are just one more way to accomplish this goal. When crafted carefully, comparative ads can reinforce positive associations for existing customers, but also entice your competitors’ customers to think about making the switch.

The Cons

  • Your brand can look bad. Comparative advertising can also backfire. If the ad is received poorly, it can give your brand a bad reputation or make you look desperate for attention. For example, Bud Light launched a comparative campaign against its competitors, putting a spotlight on others’ use of corn syrup. Turns out, it didn’t resonate.
  • Your brand may lose customers. One of the other risks of comparisons in advertisements is it can drive away customers. If your message is too off-putting, it could motivate your audience to seek other solutions and abandon your brand.
  • Your brand could face legal actions. It’s a worst-case scenario, but if your ads go too far it could put you in legal trouble. If you want to consider comparing your brand with competitors, make sure your legal team checks over every detail before launch.

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Final Thoughts

Comparative advertising comes with big advantages for brands: it can improve brand awareness and reputation, and it can boost sales or customer growth. Just as important is the potential fallout, such as a decline in reputation or customers. Experiencing success with comparison ads requires a calculated approach, careful messaging, and — what always seems to help — a little bit of humor.

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About the Author

Rob SandersRob Sanders

Rob Sanders is a digital marketing veteran with over 20 years of experience. During that time, Rob has helped a wide range of companies utilize new and emerging technologies to increase sales and profitability. As founder of RSO Consulting, Rob helps clients maximize their digital marketing efforts via SEO, SEM, SMO, and Web Analytics. He is responsible for many facets of the web analytics value chain, from identifying business goals and objectives to developing strategies and translating those into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Rob also teaches digital marketing and analytics classes throughout the U.S. and abroad. As a contributor for Simplilearn, Rob creates expert thought leadership content on a variety of digital marketing and analytics topics.

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