Should you compare your product to competitors? A quick guide on comparative advertising.

By Grace Colvin

You have a product. It’s great but no one knows it exists. You want to make some noise. You want to get the word out.

One of the most tempting ways to garner clicks and attention is to take on a well-known brand through comparative advertising. If it works, you’ve made your reputation as the new kid on the block taking on the industry heavyweight. But just like starting a fight with the toughest guy on the block your first day in jail, this strategy has the potential to backfire. Let’s take a look at some considerations that need to be made when attempting comparative advertising.

Simply put, comparative advertising refers to a message that compares two recognizable brands either explicitly or implicitly. While comparative advertising certainly has the capacity to fetch attention, it simultaneously has the potential to create legal problems along with other risks. 

Consumer reactions to comparative advertising

For many firms, comparative advertising has the power to distinguish their goods and services from other firms. However, if an ad is received poorly, comparative advertising can backfire. Brand owners should avoid portraying their competitors in a nasty or negative light. A good example of successful comparative advertising can be seen in the Mac vs. PC ad campaign run by Apple. The light-hearted ads show that a Mac is favorable over a PC, rather than targeting a specific manufacturer. One of the ads can be seen below. 

It should be noted that some cultures do not take as kindly to comparative advertising. Indeed, in certain cultures, comparative advertising can be seen as unprofessional and offensive such as in this ad from Bud Light. It is vital to do plenty of market research before proceeding with a campaign to ensure cultural/market acceptance of a potential comparative ad.

Legal Risks

Failure to comply with various comparative advertising laws can lead to hefty legal consequences.  Businesses wanting to run a comparative ad should not be deterred though, as the law actually encourages comparative ads if done correctly. The requirements for a comparative ad to be lawful according to the EU are as follows:

  • It must not be misleading. The ad must not deceive the consumer.
  • It must compare like-for-like products/services. Advertisers must carefully decide if the products are substitutable.
  • It must objectively compare features of the goods and services. This can include a price comparison if presented objectively.
  • It must not disparage trademarks, goods, or services of competitors. The underlying claim must be correct.
  • It must not take unfair advantage of a trademark or other distinguishing marks of a competitor. This would include ads for an imitation of a competitor’s product.

With these considerations in mind, advertisers should always obtain legal advice prior to releasing a comparative advertisement.

Final Thoughts

Comparative advertising can be a powerful tool for companies looking to differentiate themselves from the competition. If completed properly, comparative advertising can highlight the strengths of products to consumers. Without a doubt, successful comparative advertising requires careful market research, adequate legal knowledge, and a calculated approach.


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