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Responsible Marketing

Comparitive advertising: Love it or hate it?

By December 18, 2008April 26th, 20215 Comments
mac vs. pc comparison

You’ve probably noticed there’s a lot more comparative advertising being done lately.

Miller Lite v. Bud Light, Whopper v. Big Mac, Campbells v. Progresso and Dunkin’ Donuts (or McDonalds) v. Starbucks all immediately come to mind.

Of course, the poster child for comparative advertising is Mac v. PC:

View Mac v. PC on YouTube

Is comparative advertising good or bad?

In New ads: battle of the brands, the Christian Science Monitor argues all this comparative advertising might backfire.


After a negative, protracted political campaign season, people are fed up with negative advertising. And when one brand compares itself to another, both brands receive publicity.

I’ll buy that.

But while some ads can be downright brutal, the fact is consumers are overwhelmed with choices and information, and by comparing one product to another—even though it’s biased—they are learning about differences they might not have been aware of before.

So, do you love or hate comparative ads?

Are there particular brands that you think are doing this type of advertising particularly well?

Comment below to share.

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. . .
Thanks to Bill Boyd for sharing the CS Monitor story with me.

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Randy Ksar says:

    I think it heightens the competition but ultimately it is the product and customer service that will win.

  • Jeff Stern says:

    Conventional wisdom says that comparative advertising only works for the much smaller brand trying to gain awareness and steal some market share from the leader (e.g. apple/m$ft). As CSM advises, going negative generally turns folks off (a good strategy for pols looking to discourage swing voters from voting and energize their base, but not so good for retail). However, something like a taste test may encourage category/market growth (e.g. pepsi challenge, whopper/bigmac). Of course, the best comparison ads engage in an argument about the same product (e.g. less filling vs. tastes great).

  • When a market isn’t growing — like, say, these days — the big dogs have to scrap over market share. I agree with Jeff Stern that a comparative ad works best for a challenger brand, but these kinds of ads actually benefit both brands: a one-on-one face-off excludes Competitor Number 3 (and any other upstarts) from the conversation — and, ultimately, from consumer consideration. Consider Coke vs Pepsi. This friendly rivalry doesn’t even mention runner-up RC Cola. RC who? Exactly. There are other benefits that I mention in my article, “Rules of Competition: The Magic Number is 2”:

  • Paula says:

    I agree that it can backfire – alot of comparative ads actually rub the wrong way, just like negative politiical campaign ads. They reflect badly on the source, who comes across as self-righteous or agressive.

    The best example at the moment is the Progresso/Campbell Soup comparative ads, which I’m following with interest.

    First Campbell’s takes a hit at Progresso (saying their soups have MSG) with the blindfold ‘taste test’ ad. Then Progresso ‘ads’ back, saying Campbells has tons of soups with MSG and Progresso has lots without and their taking MSG out of the rest. Yesterday I saw the latest Campbell’s salvo, saying they have more soups without MSG than any other soup company has soups.

    My goodness, what an expensive operation for the two! The end result of these ads for me is an awareness of the amount of soups out there with MSG. Now I always check. And my brand perception is a bit changed – don’t trust either one.

    However, the Dunkin Donuts vs Starbucks ad (as Jeff and Freddy point out, an underdog comparison) DOES make me want to try a DD coffee and see for myself.

  • Harry says:

    A newer ad being carried on the NFL playoff games and featuring Howie Long compares the Chevy truck with other trucks. Oddly, it disparages comfort/conveniece features the other trucks offer that the Chevy trucks don’t. It does it by implying that any man who would like those features (steering wheel warmer and tailgate step, for instance) is less of a man than one who drive the more bare-bones Chevy. I suppose in the world of truck buyers, this is an effective tactic, but I thought it just highlighted attractive features of Chevy’s competition (I think the tailgate step is a really great idea, for instance).

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