The ASCI guidelines allow comparative advertising only when advertisements are substantial, based on facts, and do not mislead consumers.
Over the years, numerous brands have indulged in comparative advertising to differentiate themselves in the ever-growing consumer market and sometimes to grab eyeballs and thus consumer mindshare.
In a similar instance, homegrown FMCG major Dabur launched an unusual print ad in a popular national daily, attacking its rival brands. The full-page ads were carried in both English as well as Hindi dailies. The first page showcased Dabur’s hair oil product 'Anmol Gold' coconut oil at a much better value than Marico’s Parachute coconut oil and mentioned three supporting points to the ad, which said, ’23% less price, 100% quality guaranteed and Dabur's 135 years of trust’. At the end, the brand asked the readers ‘when are you switching your coconut oil?’
The second page featured Dabur Amla Hair oil against a bottle that resembled Nihar Shanti Amla oil. The copy read, ‘Cheap Amla hair oil made my hair weak and they started to break and fall. That's when I decide I'll never compromise on my hair oil. I will only use, Asli Amla, Dabur Amla.’ The second campaign was an indirect attack on a competitor, unlike the first one.
The interesting point to note here is, Dabur intelligently picked the weekend for the ad campaign to get maximum impact for the ads.
This is not the first time. We have seen many cases where a brand has taken a direct pot-shot against its main competitor. Ultimately, few cases ended up being in court for misleading claims or statements.
The ASCI guidelines allows comparative advertising only when advertisements are substantial and based on facts, do not mislead consumers and should not be unfair disparaging of competing product.
In 2016, Patanjali released a TV ad for its honey brand claiming that the product is safer and cheaper compared to other alternative brands, while displaying a bottle that resembled Dabur honey. The ad pointed out that Patanjali’s product is priced at Rs 70, whereas Dabur was charging Rs 122 for the same product.
The ad sparked a reaction from Dabur, where it released a TVC stating that its product is safe and certified by the government’s Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). As a result, Patanjali stopped the communication.
Instances such as these arouse the question — Is comparative advertising really effective and in what way does it help the brand? Does it lead to better sales or an increase in brand recall?
According to Chax a.k.a KS Chakravarthy, chief creative officer, Tidal7 Brand and Digital, “This is a straight-up price comparison ad, where you show the competitor and make a very factual statement about your lower price. Given that Dabur is also a trusted name, it will certainly make some consumers think. However, price comparisons work better when they are reinforced with a credible product superiority story — by baldly stating the lower price and stopping there, Dabur is leaving itself open to a stinging reply about getting what you pay for.”
“Having said that, Marico is probably too smart to respond directly — because, in effect, Dabur has acknowledged Parachute as the de facto category leader. So Parachute's response — if at all they choose to respond — could just be a pure quality story, which would turn the higher price into a proof point,” he adds.
Karthik Srinivasan, independent communications and marketing consultant points out, “In this case, an upstart is mentioning that it is cheaper than the market leader, who has been a market leader for a reason that is not price! Not just that, the second page of the ad too, targets another portfolio brand from Marico — Nihar, only through the bottle shape and not by name. Why? Because Dabur Amla is the market leader in that segment, and it doesn't make sense for the leader to name a smaller Nihar Amla and give it free publicity.”
Would it be ethically right for a brand to make a deliberate attack on its competitors? Where should the line be drawn?
Srinivasan defines, “In an ideal world, a brand would earn the goodwill and interest from people by being genuinely useful or effective in what it is selling. But, across many themes, we have transcended ethics and started looking at things purely for entertainment value, right from political horse-trading to naming rival brands in advertisements. It obviously generates a lot of buzz but that is all. This is an attention-generating hack, but a hack nonetheless. Beyond the middling attention for a few days, this disappears from people's minds.”
Here are some examples of controversial comparative ads —
In 1995 when Samsung entered India, its punchline was — If you're not interested in buying world's best TV, you can always buy a Sony, Phillips or Panasonic.
In 2010, detergent brand Rin made headlines when a TV commercial openly said that its product gave more whiteness as compare to P&G's Tide Naturals. The ad ended with the tagline, 'Tide se Kahi behtar safedi de Rin'.
Long ago, Ujala, in one of its advertisements, claimed that it is more superior compared to other brands. The ad showcased, that only four drops of Ujala are enough to whiten clothes, whereas other brands need several spoons for the same.
Few years ago, Future group released a campaign targetting online platforms such as Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon. The tagline said, Flip the Cart, Snap the Deal and Amaz- Off. This was probably the first instance where a brick and mortar retailer brand engaged in a comparative advertising war.