Brand fights: thoughts about comparative ads

Brands are continuously fighting for consumers from their birth. Even if they are not in the same segment, they have to do their best to get customers’ attention. And if two large brands try to sell similar products at the same time, it is quite usual that they cannot avoid criticizing each other.

Comparative advertising has its own tradition in Hungary as well. But it might not be accidental that the first banned commercial after the political turn was a comparative advertisement. This was a Vodafone TV-spot that was fined and banned by the court in 2012, due to its statistically unproved claim that the services of Vodafone’s competitors were less sophisticated. Interestingly enough, the verdict was based on the fact that customers can probably not abstract from the indirect message of the spot’s allegoric scenery.

This case also illustrates that if someone intends to go into deeper waters, it’d better be fully aware of the Hungarian law which counted pretty strict even with EU measures. While comparative advertisement is one of the tools of product comparison and free expression in the US and Europe, it is usually considered a serious attack against a competitor’s reputation and fame in Hungary. Anyway, the first comparative ads were born at the end of the 19. century, when Levi’s and Coca-Cola showed up, and it isn’t likely that they will fade away in the near future.

If we’ve already mentioned a soft drink giant: probably most of us remember the lovely commercial of Pepsi versus Coca-Cola, and laughed at Ronald McDonald, who just ordered ‘the regular menu’ at Burger King. Although these commercials are creative and carefully made for many, it is always recommended to consider the risk because if turns out that the ‘alleged facts’ are not so firm it might result in catastrophic outcomes. Comparative ads that are too aggressive can cause a boomerang-effect, when the consumers start to sympathize with the ‘whacked’ brand instead of the advertiser.

With the help of a successful comparative ad, a brand can reach strong presence on the market. This kind of commercial suggests confidence, creativity and reliability. There are some brands which incorporate these ads to their image as well. For example Audi makes a lot of jokes about its competitors, and it is now the part of the brand’s image accepted and expected by the consumers. But sometimes a company fights back, and can manage to turn the tide. Exactly that happened with BMW, when the car manufacturer gave a riposte to Audi. This move could easily give equal number of new consumer to BMW as many consumers Audi gathered before with its bold campaign.