If you haven’t seen the tea ad wars going on recently then you seriously need to have a strong cup of tea and wake up. Then again, you may well ask which cup is stronger…
Although tea has always been an aggressive category, Lipton has done something unusual in Unilever Pakistan circles… direct comparative advertising. Needless to say I raised an eyebrow when I first saw this Lipton ad:
This too, coming from the company which raised a hue and cry when Tetley (in the early 2000’s) showed an out of focus pack of Unilever Supreme, in their Tetley Challenge campaign. They almost went to court I believe. But times change and now Unilever is the one challenging Tapal Danedar head on.
So is this a smart move by Lipton and does direct competitive and comparative advertising work? Well despite its popularity with some brands in the West there have been very few positive results so far. The only thing this kind of advertising does for such a loyalty driven category is to further drive consumer loyalty towards their current brand. Tapal drinkers will become more loyal to Tapal and vice versa. Sure there might always be a few people switching sides but these numbers are usually negligible.
In the 1980s, when the cola wars were at their peak, Gerald J. Gorn and Charles B. Weinberg (both from the University of British Columbia) wrote on “Comparative Advertising: Some Positive Results.” Although they conceded that there had been some gains, this form of communication was less effective in terms of taking away share from the competition than it may first appear to be.
A more recent example is Samsung’s ‘The Next Big Thing” campaign which took Apple head on.
Did it work for them? Not really. Instead of inducing Apple customers to switch, the campaign only reinforced their loyalty to the Apple brand.
The psychology behind this is not that complex to understand. Confrontational communication tends to entrench customer loyalty with their existing brand, because, in a way, they are being told: “you were wrong all this time.”
Who among us likes to be told they are wrong… even if we are? This is why advertising that is positive and focuses on highlighting a brand’s strength rather than the competition’s weakness has proven to build greater affinity with the target audience.
One builds a brand by going beyond the specific focus of a campaign… a strategy cannot simply be that the other brand is not as good as yours. This is one of the reasons why Tetley’s challenger campaign fizzled out. Consumers did not understand the brand beyond the fact that it was supposed to be than Supreme – and Tetley should have stood for more than just that.
The other thing about such campaigns is that brand teams perhaps assume the competition is either spineless or that their agency is. This is usually not the case and it definitely was not with Tapal. Although I felt the initial response was weak; a return challenge with a staged TVC using paid actors instead of regular consumers... all the while asking them to guess which tea is better while a huge Tapal sign loomed in the background. I don’t think Tapal then understood the mechanics of a taste challenge. You can watch this here:
But they soon recovered and this short and simple communication did wonders for them.
Although the Lipton TVC received 30k+ likes and 2.4k+ shares, the Tapal one received 21k+ likes and 3.3k+ plus shares (at the time of writing this article). In social media circles we believe that a share is worth five thousand likes and by that standard Tapal has a slight edge. However, I still believe that in the long run this campaign will entrench Tapal drinkers rather than win them over to Lipton.
A key component of a comparative campaign is clear and objectively demonstrable superiority. This is the only thing that will make for a convincing argument. ‘Taste’ is such a subjective notion and in my opinion, it does not make sense in a challenger campaign. Tetly were smarter when they did it, because they compared the tea leaves. The visual difference between the dark black Tetly tea was striking compared to the lighter brown of Supreme’s leaves. This was a true objective advantage. This is not the case with the Lipton campaign, which leaves it up to the audience’s notion of what makes for a good cup of tea to determine whether or not Lipton is better.
So who is going to win? Time will tell but if I have to bet I would say neither brand. There will however, be winners and these will be the people who have decided to ride the wave giving them a bit of a free drive.
A few examples:
All these complimentary or smaller brands will gain enormously from the campaign going viral… and you know something has gone viral when Moinazim has jumped into it.
It is especially true for smaller brands like Interwood who do not have the kind of budgets to obtain such reach normally. But by participating in a trending dialogue they have gotten themselves a huge free ride. If the communication is also relevant to the trend it will be a bonus.
Let’s see where all of this takes us. If nothing else all this theatre made for some good entertainment and that is what history has generally proven to be for competitive advertising – they are a good source of entertainment.