Public Roasting: should brands call out their marketplace rivals?

Public Roasting: should brands call out their marketplace rivals?

Read time: 3 mins

I recently caught a glimpse of the go-to public transport literature, The Metro, displaying an advert from craft beer company Brewdog. It had its signature hipster juice, Punk IPA, sat alongside UK pub staple lager, Carling, with both brews’ respective ratings out of 100 on RateBeer.

It was a clear rout for Punk which notched up an impressive 97, while Carling sat on a lowly score of one. The main message to me and consumers was clear: Punk IPA is by far the better product, and I as the customer would get greater enjoyment and satisfaction from purchasing a pint of that than Carling.

This simple yet striking ad is a bona fide example of a tactic known as comparative advertising. But, what is this, how does it work, and should brands openly call out their rivals when selling their products to the consumer?

What is comparative advertising and why do brands do it?

This is essentially the practice of promoting a product directly against a competitor by referencing quality and price to highlight how it’s ultimately superior. This then helps the customer make an informed decision on whose product to choose – based on them seeing how one product is better than the others in a marketplace.

The reason brands use this technique is simple: comparative advertising is an effective marketing method for a company to make its brand and product stand out from the competition.

Expert exponents

A number of brands across multiple sectors have used this this tactic with a great deal of success.

One of the well-known early examples is by Pepsi, which in 1975 encouraged consumers to take the Pepsi Challenge, where it conducted blind taste tests around the USA. The result was customers revealing a preference for the taste of Pepsi, which armed the drinks giant with hefty ammunition to go at its main rival Coca Cola.

Another notable example is Apple with its ‘Get a Mac’ ad campaign. The premise was simple: make the Mac the most desirable product in the marketplace. It executed this by having two contrasting characters appearing on screen, one a hip, young, relaxed persona as Mac, the other as PC, a more serious older person in business attire. The point was simple, if you’re fun, interesting and want the best product, buy a Mac.

The UK’s supermarket industry has recently witnessed the emergence of new players, namely Aldi and Lidl. These brands have employed comparative advertising to challenge the big four of Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s to great success, highlighting how their prices beat those of their rivals. Customers have been presented with greater choice in terms of price and have been flocking to the budget stores, which have seen their respective market shares jump by almost 80 per cent in the last five years.

Key considerations for comparative advertising

Something that must be taken into account is the positioning of a brand in its given industry, as some brands lend themselves to this technique better than others.

Take the example of Brewdog. Here is a disrupter brand in the beer industry, whose brand, marketing and advertising strategy is largely centred around disturbing an established status quo. So, calling out rivals and shaking up the market is something that falls into its ethos and is a route it is more likely to explore.

Another key factor to take into account is whether or not what is actually being said is factual and that comparisons drawn are fair and not ‘fake news’. Making claims about rivals in ads which aren’t true or can’t be backed could land you in hot water.

Should this technique be used?

To use this tactic, comparative advertising must be compatible with the brand’s positioning. If the brand and product has something different to the rest of the competition and wants to set itself apart, then undertaking this technique can be an effective tool in drawing consumer to a product.

However, it is important that if this is done, it must be compatible with the brand and what is being said has to be accurate, or else it could potentially land you with a hefty bill, and, of course, damage your reputation.

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