There’s nothing like a good ad war to get an audience going, and you’ve seen it many, many times. In an ad war, a brand throws their marketing money behind a campaign that name checks a competitor, or competitors, with the goal of depicting themselves as the better choice. It’s designed to be a fun public airing out of dirty laundry, real or fabricated, that amuses viewers while also helping them make up their minds about your product.
And we, as an audience, can’t help but love watching the big guns battle it out for market dominance. When directly comparing your product or services to that of your competitors, highlighting your strengths when compared to their weaknesses, you’re creating a potential rivalry for the ages. Comparative advertising can be highly effective in the right situation, although there are risks involved.
To truly understand the allure of ad wars, let’s take a look at a couple examples….
Burger King Vs. McDonald’s
Perpetual fast food runner-up, Burger King, has long been playing up their scrappy, competitive underdog persona for more than half a century, and they’ve been McDonald’s main competitor for just as long. In that time, both companies have crafted plenty of comparative ad campaigns, often jokingly pointing out the flaws in their main competitors’ product. In positioning themselves as the underdog, Burger King has benefited from a more innovative approach to fast food advertising, while McDonald’s advertising benefits mainly from the nostalgia factor.
Most recently, Burger King created a sale for their popular Whopper, only charging one cent if purchased through the app within 600 feet of a McDonald’s location. The campaign was smart, funny, and more than a little bitchy.
The “Whopper Detour” campaign was a resounding success that ably swiped attention from competitors while offering a deep discount and not trash talking so much as jovially having a laugh.
Burger King is still #2, and the pandemic hit them harder than McDonald’s, but their marketing is still just as fun as before.
Samsung Vs. Apple
Another example of ad wars can be seen in the world of smartphones, where Samsung and Apple are constantly battling for dominance. Samsung’s “Ingenious” campaign is a perfect example of how comparative advertising can be used to highlight the strengths of your offering. The campaign features a series of ads where Apple store employees are portrayed as less-than-knowledgeable, the iPhone depicted as far from cutting edge, while Samsung’s offerings are portrayed as superior.
Whether you agree with the message or not, there’s no denying that the ads got people talking.
Coca-Cola Vs. Pepsi
And, of course, there’s one of the most memorable ad wars of all time: The Pepsi Challenge. A blind taste test in a public space, people were asked to taste unmarked glasses containing Pepsi and Coca-Cola to decide which one tasted better. The ad war took hold and became a cultural touchstone that is remembered fondly all these years later.
Comparative ad wars can’t be waged against just anybody, but there are a few rules to follow…
- It’s important not to appear to be punching down, that is picking on a competitor not equal or more established than you. More often than not, you’ll want to wage an ad war against a larger company. They can take it.
- Don’t attack another company directly, attack their features. No need to take your attacks deeper than superficial. You’re not picking on their reputation or brand, just their similarities and differences to you, and what sets you apart from your competitors.
- Be clear! If you’re creating an “us vs. them” scenario, make sure each party is clearly defined so there is no confusion in the market. You’re advertising yourself, but it’s a fine line. The campaign must be about you first and foremost.
- Know your market! For example: If your audience skews younger, male and less educated, then they’ll likely eat up an ad war, and view it as a competition wherein they’ll feel compelled to choose sides.
Comparative advertising can be a powerful tool to help you win customers in a crowded marketplace, but it’s important to use it wisely and ethically. So, next time you see a brand taking shots at their competition, just remember that it’s all part of the game.
Let’s have a nice clean fight.