Comparative Advertising – Is it really all that bad?

What is the case for comparative advertising?

One of the most effective methods for advertising a product is to compare it with competitive offerings. Side-by-side or “A-B” comparisons can provide prospective customers with compelling reasons to buy from the company. They can also help build credibility for its product. Subconsciously, the prospective customer says: “Who would risk making a direct comparison if they didn’t have something truly superior?” Johnson and Johnson found this out the hard way when Proctor and Gamble introduced Whisper with a direct comparison of the various features that were new in their product as opposed to Carefree without once naming Carefree directly.

Comparative advertising is especially effective when the company concentrates on unassailable and meaningful points of difference. Suppose, for example, a product is fabricated with heavy gauge steel while a competitor uses aluminum or thinner gauge steel. If durability and strength are important sales issues, by all means the company should show the difference and spell out the benefits. The facts speak for themselves.

Comparison advertising gets tricky when the issues aren’t quite as matter of fact. For example, if a company displays its product along side a competitors and claims it to be 35% faster based on independent laboratory tests, it could be headed for a false advertising suit under federal law. There have been hundreds of cases in which the courts have found a claim to be invalid based on some seemingly minor technicality such as a flaw in a comparative testing.

In one such interesting example, an oven manufacturer tried to prove its product cooked faster than a competitor’s comparably priced brand. Independent tests were conducted and the results confirmed the claim. Yet, the opposing manufacturer won a suit that included significant damages. Why? Because, a cherry pie with a lattice type crust was used to test the claimant’s oven while a solid-crusted cherry pie was used in the competitor’s oven!

Intangible cases are harder to defend as well. Pepsi and Coke bear testimony to many legal battles – the latest a controversy about a Pepsi spoof on the current Coke model, Hrithik Roshan. An angry Roshan has sued by Coke as well as Pepsi!