The Pros and Cons of Comparative Advertising

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.

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 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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