GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare India Ltd and Heinz India Pvt. Ltd recently brought out comparative ads in print and television claiming that their energy drinks—Horlicks and Complan, respectively—had more nutritional content even as they took potshots at their competitor.
With the ad spat now moving to the courts, Campaign spoke to two senior ad professionals to get their views on the pros and cons of comparative advertising and whether such commercials help the brand. Edited excerpts:
Sigmund Freud once said, “Humans are born screaming for attention.” Indeed, it is from this very basic survival instinct that competitiveness is born. Success at every stage of life is judged by how one can measure up to competition. Hence to deny competitiveness in advertising is both hypocritical as well as unrealistic. Advertising is, after all, merely a reflection of human behaviour.
Rohit Ohri, Managing Partner, JWT India. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
I believe that all good advertising is competitive. The raison d’etre of advertising is to create compelling propositions for brands; competitive propositions that suitably answer the all-important question—why buy me? Comparative advertising, on the other hand, is one of the manifestations of competitive advertising. It drives sales by comparing the features or services of a brand with that of its closest competitor. It is most often seen in markets and categories that are “price-sensitive” or where “a benefit/ attitudinal upper hand by brand” is the key to winning consumer votes in a crowded “me too” category. Consumers today need “instant, ready-to-consume” information on products and services. Comparative advertising helps them make informed choices. This, of course, assumes that comparative advertising does not misrepresent the facts.
The responsibility of moral policing lies with the Advertising Standards Council of India and the Advertising Agencies Association of India. My favourite example of comparative ad has to be Pepsi’s full-page advertisement welcoming Coke to India.
The byline said—“Coke and Coca-Cola are trademarks of the Coca-Cola Company. Pepsi is the choice of a new generation”.
Comparative advertising is, at its very best, not factual and boring, but subtle and extremely clever!
I am not a fan of competitive advertising. It reminds me of poorly done celebrity advertising—both are symptomatic of lazy creativity and lazier strategic thinking. It takes real effort and real study to arrive at a unique consumer insight around which to build a brand idea and a consumer proposition.
Lynn de souza, chairman and CEO, Lintas Media Group.
It’s easy to look at a competitor and poke holes in his product or services. It’s harder, but definitely more valuable, to plug the holes in one’s own offering and build real competitive advantages with which you can impress your customer. In the case of most competitive ad battles, I forget who started and who ended the fight. I forget who was advertising what, both get associated with both. I simply don’t understand why one would want to advertise for a competitor because even by calling out his bad points, you end up doing him a favour by the mere act of calling attention to his name.
Of course, some brands want to build their images around controversy and ambush—in which case, it may still be strategically correct. Still, there is no research that shows consumers like a name-caller any more than they like a brand that seeks to connect with them in a positive way.
Complan and Horlicks are both well-loved brands; I believe neither of them needed to stoop this low. Both brands already have a strong connect with consumers of all ages and are “heritage” brands. I have no idea what the tracking data, post these campaigns, have to say but will be surprised if likeability scores for either of them have gone up. Recall may have but it’s important to be recalled for the right values.
Brands targeted at children and mothers have a responsibility in this area that goes beyond market competitiveness.