The Risk of Combative Ad Campaigns

Eschewing the prevailing theory in advertising that one should never mention your competitor’s product, many companies are taking a page out of the political campaign season and going with attack ads or in the parlance of the industry, “comparative advertising” that do just that.  The trend towards negative marketing is being attributed to the downturn […]

Eschewing the prevailing theory in advertising that one should never mention your competitor’s product, many companies are taking a page out of the political campaign season and going with attack ads or in the parlance of the industry, “comparative advertising” that do just that.  The trend towards negative marketing is being attributed to the downturn in the economy, forcing businesses to compete for a smaller pool of consumer dollars.

Although a dangerous proposition with plenty of potential to backfire, agencies tasked with creating these campaigns have found injecting humor to be the best method of ensuring success.  Additionally, the charges being leveled against the competition need to be well-researched and not simply anecdotal. Advertisers shouldn’t underestimate the savvy of their customer base by pushing unsubstantiated claims, simply to move a few more units.  The risk outweighs the reward in these instances, given the the web’s potential to reach a wide audience if any fallacies are uncovered by the public, thus alienating the very people they were attempting to court.  At the same time, a poorly conceived strategy opens the door for the competition, allowing them proper justification to employ undercutting tactics of their own.  The real question seems to be how much tit for tat can we collectively stomach before everyone walks away a loser?

“It’s very tactical, it’s very short-term, but today marketers are thinking short-term,” said David Melançon, the chief executive of the Ito Partnership, a brand identity consulting company in New York.

Other examples of negative product pitches include a long-running campaign from Apple that mercilessly mocks the PC operating systems sold by Microsoft; a campaign from the Fox Business Channel cable network, which deridesJim Cramer of CNBC; ads for Burger King that take on other fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Wendy’s; and a campaign for a new variety of Campbell’s soup, Select Harvest, that berates Progresso for selling soups with ingredients like monosodium glutamate.

[via New York Times]

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