Beat the odds – Is competitive advertising a great strategy to win this summer?

A competition-based advertising strategy can really work wonders, if your brand come across as much better than competition, writes Ruchira Jain.

By  Storyboard18Apr 3, 2024 11:53 AM
Beat the odds –  Is competitive advertising a great strategy to win this summer?
Long time memorable advertisements include Nike's ambush marketing tactics during the 2012 Olympics, where it leveraged its "Find Your Greatness" campaign to overshadow official sponsor Adidas or the Pepsi ‘Nothing Official About it’ World Cup Campaign ambushing Coca Cola, the official sponsor. (Image source: Unsplash)

Imagine, you are an upcoming brand who wants to build brand stature with minimum spends. The advertising agency typically suggests hiring the biggest celebrity as a best way to brand stardom. You know it may not be the complete answer but surely you are tempted as star power never hurts. However, chances are you don’t have that kind of moolah, as typically brand budget is in direct proportion to sales (unless you are a lucky startup with a lot of investor money to spend). Either way, you ask your creative partner to come back with more ideas.

The creative agency may propose another popular way to get more than fair share impact: a competition-based advertising strategy. This strategy and can really work wonders, if your brand come across as much better than competition. This route guarantees discussion and debate as loyalists of brands are likely to take notice of your brand. However, it’s a high risk- high return route and can often misfire.

Let’s look at some of the types of Competition Advertisements:

1.Comparative Ads: This form of advertising directly compares a brand's products or services with those of competitors. Whether it's taste tests, performance evaluations, comparative advertising aims to showcase superiority and sway consumer preferences. This strategy is used by brands which think they have a superior claim vs competition and used across a wide set of categories such as Washing Detergents, Ketchup to electronics or consumer durables.

In recent times, Sebamed directly referenced its cleaning bars versus Unilever brands on Ph levels to make a bold pitch as a better cleansing bar. In recent times, boAt lifestyle advertising came under discussion for trying to claim its better than Apple with its ‘Think Better’ Front page newspaper advertisements. Keep in mind that this route can only work if there is indeed well-proven claims of superiority versus competition and the backlash for boAt comes on account of lack of any credibility in this advertisement. It just comes out as a lazy creative.

2. Ambush Marketing: Often deployed during major events like sports tournaments or festivals, ambush marketing involves brands associating themselves with an event without official sponsorship or by strategically leveraging a bigger competitor’s assets. By cleverly alluding to the event or its participants, brands aim to steal attention from official sponsors.

Long time memorable advertisements include Nike's ambush marketing tactics during the 2012 Olympics, where it leveraged its "Find Your Greatness" campaign to overshadow official sponsor Adidas or the Pepsi ‘Nothing Official About it’ World Cup Campaign ambushing Coca Cola, the official sponsor. Recently Britannia Jim Jam Pops made an unsuccessful attempt at trying to poke fun at competitor Oreo’s IPL advertisements. This particular ad failed on multiple levels from comprehension to humour quotient and probably only got marketers attention and wasted money as far as consumers are concerned.

3.Price-Match Guarantees: Retailers frequently employ this strategy to assure consumers that they offer the best prices compared to competitors. Advertisements showcasing price-match guarantees instil confidence in consumers, encouraging them to make purchases without fear of overpaying. In the highly competitive e-commerce market in India, Flipkart and Amazon have engaged in price match advertising to gain an edge.

Flipkart, for instance, has run campaigns promoting its competitive pricing compared to Amazon, showcasing specific deals and discounts available on its platform. These campaigns aim to appeal to price-conscious Indian consumers and drive sales on Flipkart's platform. In Diwali, consumers are spoilt for choice between sales and even deeper sales. However, the best-in-class advertisement on price wars is perhaps Surf’s Lalitaji which claimed that Surf offered superior and more washes because it used less detergent and hence was a better value for money than other detergents (without directly naming Nirma).

Pros of Competition Advertising Strategy: By positioning themselves in direct competition with rivals, brands increase their visibility and stay at the forefront of consumers' minds. This heightened awareness often translates into increased sales and market share. Further, Competition-led advertising allows brands to highlight their unique selling points and differentiate themselves from competitors. Whether it's product quality, pricing, or customer service, this strategy helps carve out a distinct identity in the market. Comparative advertising prompts consumers to critically evaluate their choices, fostering engagement and brand interaction. The ensuing debate and discussion further amplify brand visibility and consumer involvement.

Cons of Comparative Advertising:

This route necessitates a brand to navigate legal boundaries carefully to avoid accusations of false or misleading claims. In India, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) regulates comparative advertising to ensure fairness and accuracy. While competition can spur innovation and improvement, aggressive or derogatory campaigns aimed at competitors may elicit negative backlash from consumers. Brands risk damaging their reputation and alienating potential customers instead of gaining traction.

Further, relying solely on competition-led advertising may foster a reactive rather than proactive marketing approach. Brands must strike a balance, supplementing competitive messaging with positive brand-building initiatives to sustain long-term success.

In conclusion, competitive advertising is a high risky-high reward strategy to beat the odds!

Any advertising strategy would only be successful only if there is clarity on the target audience, the essence of your brand and the intended message. Further, pre-testing creatives with your target group is key as those developing advertising can sometimes be too close to the process and intended strategy or humour may not be well received by the consumers. Keep in mind that a consumer may be far more open to a brand playing to its strengths versus a direct reference to any other brand.

Renowned marketing guru Philip Kotler once remarked, "The art of marketing is the art of brand building. If you are not a brand, you are a commodity." In today's fiercely competitive market landscape, competition-led advertising serves as a powerful tool for brand building and differentiation. However, success hinges on a nuanced understanding of market dynamics, consumer behavior and staying true to brand essence is critical.

As brands continue to navigate the intricacies of competition-led advertising, they must remember the words of advertising legend David Ogilvy: "The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible." Finally, even the best strategy fails unless the execution comes across as effortless and fun!

Ruchira Jain is the founder and director @ Elevate Insights.

First Published on Apr 3, 2024 8:54 AM

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