Comparative Advertising

 | April 08,2010 10:48 am IST

Comparative Advertising may be defined as "Advertising that compares two or more specifically named or recognizably presented brands of the same generic product or service class" and make such comparison in terms of one or more specific product or service attributes."

Comparative advertising, as a special form of advertising, is a sales promotion device that compares the products or services of one undertaking with those of another, or with those of other competitors.

All comparative advertising is designed to highlight the advantages of the goods or services offered by the advertiser as compared to those of a competitor. In order to achieve this objective, the message of the advertisement must necessarily underline the differences between the goods or services compared by describing their main characteristics. The comparison made by the advertiser will necessarily flow from such a description.

Comparative advertising is a natural extension of Freedom of Speech, and a natural consequence of the free market scenario that we are in today.
"In fact, Comparative advertising in the true sense has often been confused with Disparagement."
Functional Advantages of Comparative Advertising 
Comparative advertising enable advertisers to objectively demonstrate the merits of their products. Comparative advertising improves the quality of information available to consumers enabling them to make well-founded and more informed decisions relating to the choice between competing products/services by demonstrating the merits of various comparable products. Based on this information, consumers may make informed and therefore efficient choices.
Comparative advertising which aims to objectively and truthfully inform the consumer promotes the transparency of the market. Market transparency is also deemed to benefit the public interest as the functioning of competition is improved resulting in keeping down prices and improving products. Comparative advertising can stimulate competition between suppliers of goods and services to the consumer's advantage.
Advantages from the Consumer's Point of View 
From the Consumer's point of view, Comparative advertising has more advantages than disadvantages. For example, Comparative advertising represents an inevitable part of the consumer decision-making process, particularly at the evaluation stage.
Consumer wants needs and looks for more information to help him in making decisions. Comparative advertising can facilitate efficient decision-making, and fill the gap in the consumer's search for meaningful information.
The concept of "Consumer sovereignty" requires three conditions to be fulfilled - "Perfect competition", "Perfect information" and "free choice" - and comparative advertising creates these conditions.
Risks of Comparative Advertising 
Comparisons between goods and services of different undertakings carry with them some significant risks. There is a danger that once undertakings address the merits and inadequacies of competing goods or services, they may be tempted to denigrate them or derive unfair advantages from such inaccurate comparisons. Just like traditional forms of advertising, comparative advertising seeks to both assist the development of the undertaking concerned and to inform consumers. Although both forms of advertising seek to attract customers, in case of comparative advertising, commercial relationships may be exposed to the constant threat of unfair practices.
Characteristics of True Comparisons
Much of the criticism against Comparative advertising is really directed towards Disparagement, rather than against true comparisons.
True Comparisons should have three characteristics:
  • Two or more specifically named brands
  • Two or more attributes of the good or service
  • A statement, implication or demonstration of factual information, as a basis for the claim
The risk of consumer confusion and deception through Comparative advertising occurs in the following situations:
  • When advertisers of two or more competing brands make substantiated but irreconcilable product claims
  • When there are incomplete comparisons