What Is Comparison Advertising?

Malcolm Tatum

Also known as comparative or competitive advertising, comparison advertising is a strategy that involves identifying certain characteristics of similar products and attempting to demonstrate how one product is inherently of more value to consumers. The process may be somewhat broad, in that the advertiser may tout a benefit found with one product that is generally absent from similar products, or even involve a one-on-one comparison with a specific competitor. Typically, there are trade regulations that help to manage how comparison advertising may be used, including regulations that require that all statements made in the advertising must be verifiable.

Comparison advertising is popular in the beverage industry.
Comparison advertising is popular in the beverage industry.

One of the more common examples of comparison advertising has to do with basing the promotional strategy on what is known as a taste test. This approach will usually involve having several consumers taste the product and assess it based on flavor, texture, and general satisfaction. Those same consumers will then be invited to taste a competing product and judge it on the same criteria. At that point, each consumer will have the chance to identify which product is preferred, with the names of the product revealed only after the consumer has completed the entire tasting process. A taste test approach can be used easily for various types of beverages as well as different food items.

Automobile commercials often employ comparison advertising.
Automobile commercials often employ comparison advertising.

A slight variation of comparison advertising will sometimes involve presenting specific facts about two or more competing products, based on information that is provided by the manufacturers of those products. For example, the maker of one particular automobile may choose to compare the mileage of a particular auto design with the mileage claimed for a similar make and model manufactured by a different auto maker. The underlying message to consumers is that while both cars offer similar benefits in terms of style and features, one is clearly superior due to the higher average gasoline mileage.

Typically, there are regulations that help to prevent advertisers from using dubious or untrue claims as part of comparison advertising. As a result, a campaign will usually require a great deal of research to ensure that all claims can be substantiated using references that are reliable and reputable. Even within this type of approach, a comparison campaign may engage in selective use of factual information, choosing to present that data in a manner that shows the product being promoted in the best possible light by intentionally not including data about the competition that could possibly lead consumers to a different conclusion.

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