Comparative advertising, or ‘knocking copy’ advertising, has been an age-old tactic employed by brands to increase their market share. While it can garner a huge amount of attention, generating consumer focus in a positive way is essential to gain positive feedback about a product. Many consumers are not positive about comparative advertising, mainly because it does not always leave the brand with a positive image. Sometimes brand wars can appear trivial to consumers and detract from the perception of the actual value of the product. However, there are instances where the focus on the ‘positive image’ is forgotten and consumers actually buy into the brand’s tactic of selling itself in light of the limitations of another brand.
According to an article by S. Ratneshwar and Cornelia Pechman, which quotes authors Dickson, Ginter, Smith, Sujan and Bettman, the objective of many marketing campaigns is to differentiate their product by positioning it as superior to their competitor’s, by virtue of particular features - which can be posited as the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) of the product.
The differentiation aspect is important in terms of making a brand stand out. The article quotes Wilkie and Farris, who explain that the best way to do this is to use a directly comparative advertisement, because if the advertisement is indirectly (or not) comparative, consumers may wrongly assume that the competitor is of the same standing as the advertised brand. The aim of this differentiation, Penchman and Ratneshwar explain, is best achieved with comparative advertising.
Samsung employed this kind of differentiation by releasing a series of ads in 2018 in which they targeted Apple’s iPhone by focusing on the shortcomings of the iPhone. The commercials showcased a salesman wearing a shirt with the Apple logo convincing customers to buy Apple products despite their unfavourable and humorous comparisons with Samsung Galaxy. Although the ads had a lot of mixed reviews, they were particularly informative for the consumer. Plenty of Apple and Samsung users appreciated the humour and the strategy employed by the brand to convey the information regarding those features.
Another example was the recent post by Samsung that subtly touched upon Apple’s environmental sustainability efforts by eliminating the inclusion of a charger with their iPhone 12. The logic being that Apple would be producing lesser gadgets and using less raw materials with their new model. In response, Samsung released a post on their Facebook page, highlighting its brand, including the phone’s adapter in the box.
Samsung ranks as eighth in Forbes’ list of the world’s top 100 valuable brands in 2019; Apple ranks as number one. However, brand wars turn do not always turn out negatively for the brand doing the comparison and some local brands have generated a great deal of publicity as well as the differentiation that comparative advertising aims for.
Lipton and Tapal’s comparative skirmish during their 2016 campaigns got a lot of people talking and put both brands under the spotlight. To this day, the debate between Lipton and Tapal continues, with consumers still talking about which brand is better. Both brands did not use very strong differentiation factors as the defining element that would allow one of them to trump the other. Lipton used consumer preference and Tapal positioned itself as the ‘strong’ chai of Pakistan. Nevertheless, the hype generated by the campaign woke up consumers to the brands. Also unforgettable was the humour the ads used to target each other’s slogans.
Comparative combat, like any form of drama successfully manages to draw consumers in and get the brand noticed.
Sana Ahmad Safdar is a graduate in Communication, Culture and Information Technology and a freelance writer.