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Comparative advertising: Too hot to handle

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Comparative advertising: Too hot to handle

What’s in a name? Apparently everything, especially if that name happens to be that of your competition that you use at will. You just might be dragged into a lawsuit. This is exactly what happened recently when Horlicks, the health drink from Glaxo SmithKline (GSK) in its TVC blatantly showed its competitor brand Complan and compared how Horlicks was a smarter choice.

Needless to say, Heinz, the company which owns the brand Complan, raised an issue and the matter is now sub judice. In fact, after the recent bombardment of the Horlicks ad on mostly all kids channels, it has now gone off air, though Complan on its part is out with a new TVC that claims that “Children served Complan with a regular diet grow twice as fast compared to those only on a regular diet, because Complan contains 100 per cent milk proteins and 23 vital nutrients.”

Thankfully, there is no Horlicks brand in the picture or anything even remotely looking similar to the brand packaging with conspicuous efforts made to hide the name of the brand, hence Complan manages to pull this off successfully.

This brings us to a vital point in comparative advertising. Isn’t advertising all about comparing one brand with another and proving how your brand is better than the rest? After all, the scope of advertising is to establish your brand as the preferred brand among consumers and the comparative formula has been taken many a time in the past, be it for hair oil, cold drinks, dish bar, washing powder or soap, among others. Or else, we would have never seen the iconic Surf ad – ‘Uski sari meri sari se safed kaise?’

Giving her take on comparative advertising, Priti Nair, Managing Partner, BBH India, said, “Comparative advertising had been quite an acceptable practice when I started out in advertising, and one can recall number of instances where we have gone into side by side demo with every effort to hide the competitions’ brand, though one could still figure out the brand being compared to. Though this practice had stopped in the past few years, but I believe with the current economic scenario and shoppers being cautious, this formula is being brought slowly to life again.”

She further said, “If a brand needs to communicate a truth to its consumers, which has a research banking, then comparative advertising can be adopted. Though one should refrain from blatantly proving its point and package the comparison in an interesting way.”

In fact, this kind of comparative advertising is not new when it comes to the cola majors, who have taken pot shots at each other with spoofs in advertising. Sprite from the Coca-Cola stable has been immensely popular with its ‘Sprite bujhaye pyaas, baki sab bakwaas’, directly spoofing Pepsico’s Mountain Dew. Even in the recent past, Sprite had come up with ‘Yeh hai Hindustan Meri jaan’ in a direct spoof of Pepsi’s ‘Yeh hai Youngistan meri jaan’.

Manish Bhatt, VP and ECD, Contract Advertising, recalls Pepsi’s ‘Nothing official about it’ tagline as a delightful piece of work that was coined in response to Coca- Cola being the official sponsor of the World Cup Cricket. He said, “Comparative advertising, when tastefully executed, can be an example of successful advertising. Brands are built on competitive spirit, but there has to be a long term strategy in building brands and the proposition should be unique enough to make it convincing. Else it’s akin to salesmen fighting among each other proving their brand to be better, which ends up actually mocking the product.”

There is also an opinion that some categories require such comparison, such as automotive, PC, LCD TV, real estate and mutual funds. Rajeev Rakshit, VP, Orchard Advertising, said, “From consumers’ point of view, I think an honest, relevant, knowledgeable comparison gives him an advantage in making a purchase decision, and in certain complex category this is really helpful.”

He added, “Though from an agency’s perspective, I think an upfront comparison is because of intellectual lethargy, which otherwise can be used constructively to create a differentiating proposition. A good piece of advertising is deeply rooted in consumer insight and differentiating content can be used effectively in creating a compelling communication.”

Well, that’s about comparative advertising, but coming back to Horlicks and its recent creative adventure, people at JWT have preferred to keep mum on the subject as the matter is in court. However, a person who has worked closely on the brand did defend it by citing that Coke and Pepsi had done it in the past and this kind of comparison depended on the larger strategy that the brand wanted to adopt.

To sum it all, as Contract’s Bhatt aptly said, “Comparative advertising is explosive and not all agencies or all brands can pull it off.”

Also read: In advertising, spoofing is goofing, say creative bigwigs


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