WHEN BRANDS ATTACK
An FAQ & POV on Comparative Advertising
1. Why the increase in comparative advertising?
2. Do attack ads work?
3. Why do attack ads work?
4. Are attack ads suited for all types brands?
5. Are attack ads more or less effective than regular ads ?
6. What are the hallmarks of a great attack ad?
7. Attack ads: Short-term tactic or strategic platform?
8. What are some attack ad best-practices?
9. What are issues to look out for?
10. What are some reference resources?
“Advertising disputes jumped 40 percent in 2008,
[and we] saw another sharp increase last year.
Comparative advertising is the No. 1 ad strategy
in marketing right now”
– Bruce Hopewell,
NAD’s Review Board Director*
* National Advertising Division – which reviews ads for truthfulness and accuracy)
IT’S A ZERO-SUM WORLD RIGHT NOW
The perfect storm: low consumer confidence, slowing growth and market saturation.
In this climate, brand growth comes not from getting your fair share of an expanding market
but taking more than your fair share from competitors.
Pew Research Center June 2010
Business Week April 2010
US News 2010
COMPARATIVE ADVERTISING SUCCESS STORIES
“GET A MAC” CAMPAIGN
• Mac sales up 39% in first year of campaign
• Apple market share goes from 5% - 7%
• Microsoft’s CoreBrand power ranking falls
from 11 to 59
“THE TRUTH IS OUT” (DUNKIN #1 IN TASTE)
• Dunkin Brand recognition jumps 10%
• Dunkin Brand commitment grows by 25%
• Taste Claim spot gets 95% product recall
• Starbucks quality rating drops from 59% to 52%
“THERE’S A MAP FOR THAT” CAMPAIGN
• Verizon’s BrandIndex “Buzz” score jumps from
8 to 24. AT&T’s drops from 1.4 to -2.4.
• Willingness to recommend Verizon climbs from
9 to 25; AT&T’s drops from 9 to -8.
“LAPTOP HUNTER” CAMPAIGN
• Mac share gain slows (8%)
• Microsoft BrandIndex “Value” score jumps
from 10 to 44.
• Apple BrandIndex “Value” score drops from
56 to 12.4
“Our judgments when we are pleased and
friendly are not the same as when we are
pained and hostile.”
BECAUSE THEY’RE LESS POLARIZING (SURPRISE!)
Generally a good choice for category leaders
looking to secure and activate the installed base
Generally a good choice for category
challenger looking to up-end the status quo
Source: Campaigning for Hearts and Minds, The University Chicago Press, Ted Brader 2006
A stabilizing force
• Greater capacity to create interest among existing
supporters and motivate them to become engaged.
• Reinforce existing beliefs and increase confidence
about prior decisions – among both supporters and
• Polarizing – they result in both supporters and
detractors being more entrenched in their positions.
A destabilizing force
• Greater capacity to persuade unbelievers
• Lead consumers to put less emphasis on prior
convictions and more on current evaluations.
• Create uncertainty about prior choices and increase
likelihood of preference change.
• Lead to active information seeking behavior.
FOR ALL TYPES
“Comparative advertising is almost
always an underdog’s game.
The risks tend to be too big for
Even when they win, they pay to build
awareness of their competitor.”
– Julie Hennessy
A LOOK AT RECENT ATTACK-ADS PAYS THAT OFF…
“Get a Mac”
“Truth in Engineering”
“New Energy” vs.
BUT: EVEN CATEGORY LEADERS ARE JOINING IN…
…in order to curb the gathering momentum of successful challengers, especially in
cases where the competitive fight is approaching a neck-to-neck race.
Verizon was traditionally the category leader (31%
vs. ATT 25%). But iPhone drove huge change in
• Intent to switch from ATT to Verizon dropped from
28% to 19%.
• Intent to switch from Verizon to ATT jumped from
14% to 31%
Verizon leveraged public frustration over AT&T’s
overloaded network to launch “There’s a Map for
that” campaign that showcased Verizon’s traditional
advantage and halted ATT momentum.
Campbell was the traditional category leader. But
Progresso was making headway with a new line of
soups, growing faster than the category and taking
Campbell tapped into increasing public awareness
about “healthy eating” and launched its “Made with
love vs. Made with MSG” campaign, to which
Progresso responded in kind.
Prompting concerns among financial analysts that the
“soup war” could actually depress demand for the
entire category as consumers come to see soups as a
less healthy choice overall.
ARE ATTACK ADS
MORE OR LESS
THE SWEET SPOT FOR ATTACK ADS
• The impact of attack ads
depends both on the level of
consumer engagement and level
of perceived differentiation in
• The sweet spot for comparative
advertising is categories with
high consumer engagement and
low perceived level of
• High impact of
• Likely out-perform non-
• Moderate impact
• Comparative ads are a
• So are non-comparative ads
• Impact is likely similar
across both strategies
• Low impact of
• Non-comparative ad
strategy likely a better
Source: The Effect of Comparative Advertising on Consumer Perceptions, European Journal of Business & Psychology, 2009
WHAT ARE THE
A TRULY GREAT
3 KEY ELEMENTS FOR A TRULY GREAT ATTACK AD
RATIONAL EMOTIONAL CULTURAL
• Reflective of the
• Us vs. Them
• Grounded in a
A LOOK AT WHO IS DOING WHAT…
Quiznos: More meat X
Huggies: Little Movers X
Miller Lite: Good Call X
Verizon: Map for that X X
Campbell: TLC vs. MSG X X
Dunkin’: Fritalian X X
Microsoft: Life w/out Walls X X
Audi: Truth in Engineering X X X
Apple: Get a Mac X X X
Microsoft: Laptop Hunter X X X
“It’s very tactical, it's very short-term, but
today marketers are thinking short-term,”
– David Melançon
CEO, Ito Partnership
NYC Brand Identity Consultancy
THE GENERAL SENTIMENT GOES
SOMETHING LIKE THIS:
TURNING ATTACK ADS INTO A STRATEGIC PLATFORM
• Campaign that lives at the
intersection of all three elements.
• Example: Apple “Get a Mac”
• Supplementing brand-building
efforts with claim-based attack
• Example: Dunkin “America Runs
On Dunkin” and “The Truth Is Out”
Fusion StrategyPortfolio StrategyUnilateral Strategy
• Pure attack ad executions – without
brand-building air cover
• Example: Campbell “TLC vs. MSG”
MESSAGING BEST PRACTICES
Stay positive if possible: Positive superiority claims (more leg room) tend to have higher claim
acceptance by consumers than negative claims (Progresso = MSG).
“Positive versus negative comparative advertising”, Journal of Marketing Letters, 1993
Practice moderation: Hyper-aggressive ads are seen as self-serving and manipulative, while
moderately aggressive claims are seen as helpful and informative.
“Effects of comparative advertising in high-and low-cognitive elaboration conditions”, Journal of Advertising, 2006
Being indirect can be good: Indirect comparative ads (not referencing competitors by name)
are more successful in helping to position the sponsor’s brand against the entire category.
If you know your target, don’t beat around the bush: Directly comparative ads are more
effective in positioning a brand directly against the specific competitive target.
- “A Further Assessment of Indirect Comparative Advertising Claims of Superiority”, Journal of Advertising, 2006
Know your audience 1: Comparative advertising encourages greater levels of brand-
evaluation among men (and leads to more favorable ad and brand impressions) than women.
Know your audience 2: Women are more likely to consider the ad’s manipulative intent, which
can more easily lead to negative ad and brand impressions.
“The Relative Effectiveness of Comparative and Non-comparative Advertising: Evidence for Gender Differences, Journal of Advertising, 2007
RULES TO LIVE BY
- Don’t kill the category: Make sure your claims don’t undermine the category as a whole
(Example: Campbell/Progresso Soup Wars)
- Know thyself: Consumers give challenger brands more lee-way (everyone loves an
underdog) while expecting a higher level of conduct from category leaders.
- Know your enemy: Be calculated in understanding if your adversary is trusted and loved or
- Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight: Make sure you have the resources to sustain and win
what you started. Chances are the competition will retaliate.
- Think twice if you’re the leader: Comparative ads tend to suffer from weaker brand
linkage and mis-attribution. Don’t invite consumers to consider the competition unless you
have a very good reason for it.
- Don’t be the pot that calls the kettle black: If you open up a front of attack, make sure you
yourself aren’t vulnerable there.
- Know the caution zone: Be appropriately aggressive. Negative attack ads say as much
about the sponsor as they do about the target. So stay classy and know the boundaries.
A SAMPLE OF REFERENCES WE CONSULTED
“Just like politicians, consumer brands are using attack ads”
New York Times, April 2008
“Mm-Mm-Militant: Campbell goes after Progresso”
Brandweek, Sept 2008
“Brand vs. Brand: Attack Ads on the rise”
AdAge, October 2008
“In Mac vs. PC battle, Microsoft winning in value perceptions”
AdAge, May 2009
“The gloves are off: More marketers opting for attack ads””
AdAge, May 2009
“When brands attack: the rise of comparative advertising””
CorporateEye.com, October 2008
“Microsoft’s Laptop Hunter ads are hurting Apple”
CNET, May 2009
“Attack ads aren’t just for politicians”
QSR Magazine, March 2010
“Experts question effectiveness of attack ads”
Brandweek, October 2008
“Ready, Aim, Fire – Why negative ads are good for voters”
Newsweek, October 2008
“Attitudinal effects of comparative and non-comparative advertising”
Journal of Advertising, 1994
“Effects of comparative advertising in high-and low-cognitive elaboration
Journal of Advertising, 2006
“A Further Assessment of Indirect Comparative Advertising Claims of
Superiority Over all Competitors”
Journal of Advertising, 2006
“The Relative Effectiveness of Comparative and Non-comparative
Advertising: Evidence for Gender Differences in Information-Processing
Journal of Advertising, 2007
“Modeling Consumer Response to Differing Levels of Comparative
European Journal of Marketing, 2003
“The Effect of Comparative Advertising on Consumer Perceptions:
Similarity or Differentiation?”
European Journal of Business & Psychology, 2009
“Positive versus negative comparative advertising”
Journal of Marketing Letters, 1993
“War Economy: When should you attack your competition?”
“Audi’s competitive advertising jabs BMW, stings Toyota”
Brandchannel.com, February 2010