Comparative advertising: the debate is back

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The latest offensive from Rin – a TV commercial claiming to be better than Tide by not just naming but showing the competitive product, has brought the debate on comparative advertising back in focus. In my view, comparative advertising is permissible if it’s based on facts. Advertising Standards Council of India, has this to say about comparative advertising in it’s Code of Conduct (link to pdf):

In the Rin ad, the claim is limited to a whiter wash- ‘Tide se kahin behatar safedi de Rin’ (Rin gives better whiteness than Tide), without getting into specific, feature-to-feature comparison. Almost all detergent ads promise a whiter wash – except that they used to refer to ‘ordinary detergents’ leaving the consumer to figure that they are talking about her brand. The only difference here is that a competitor has been named, and shown brazenly. According to this article: ‘this claim is based on laboratory tests done through globally accepted protocols in independent third-party laboratories’.

Comparative ads aren’t new to India. Many years ago, Trikaya Grey created an ad for HCL Photocopiers which directly named Modi Xerox in their ads. The comparison was feature-to-feature and specifically mentioned why HCL was better. I don’t have the ads, but you can read about it in this 1989 article from Economic Times (link to pdf file).There have been others too – the recent Horlicks vs. Complan ads come to mind.

Without solid factual backup, comparative ads only serve to create a ruckus and bring the advertising and the brand(s) into the public eye. It remains to be seen how Tide will react but reports indicate that they may not respond directly. The ads remain on air with a high frequency for a short period of time, creating a lot of buzz before ASCI or a consumer complaint forces the advertiser to pull the ad off the air. Sometimes it may backfire on the advertiser – like in the case of Fusion water tanks. They released an ad (around the same time as the HCL ads) which said: ‘Bad news for Sintex’. It was based on a claim that Fusion had 6 new features over Sintex – the generic name for water tanks. I am not sure if it benefited Fusion; the HCL ads on the other hands helped increase shares dramatically. It’s a double edged sword since it reminds the consumer about your competing brand – just as the Surf Lalitaji ads reminded consumers of Nirma. It may also repulse a few consumers who don’t like brand bashing preferring for you to speak about your positives rather than the negatives of the competition.

Globally, comparative ads have been around for decades. There’s this classic ad for Penn Tennis Balls from Fallon McElligott which was endearing simply because the comparison was tongue in cheek. And then of course, the ‘Get a Mac’ ads for Apple which take a dig at some of PC’s features and also highlight the positives of Mac OS X. In this light, check out the latest effort from Audi of America. On the back of Car and Driver comparison tests, Audi took on it’s competitors – Lexus, BMW, Mercedes et al.

On the back of another fact – Audi is growing faster than Mercedes, Lexus or BMW – they released another ad, ‘The Spell‘, which again named competing brands directly. The Rin ad, compared to such efforts remains at a claim level. What say?

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  1. such brazen, blatant comparison only exhibits desperation in higher ranks of Unilever to attempt winning back shares they have been losing for sometime now…

    Alas they have chosen chosen to go beyond their own products' benefit… may be there was none to begin with!

  2. i've never seen this type of ad. i think this add would not be lucrative for HUL..

    • Asheesh Gupta Reply

      In my opinion mere puffing is not wrong, the rule of caveat emptor is still applies here, todays buyer are well aware of the quality of the products, so it wouldn't make any difference even if HUL directly compares Rin with Tide. Provided the statement shall not be untrue. Therefore, if the statement is proved to be true, there can be no case of commerical disparagement as Competition in the market requires comparison in the larger interest of the consumer. Public interest shall be the test in determination of issue of disparagement.

  3. Sriram Iyer Reply

    So much desperation from RIN?! So these are based on the laboratory test reports – how much of it would the consumer *understand*?! Tide can do their own version of lab reports and say they're better than everyone. But does this also mean Tide is the second best to Rin? I guess other competitors would also be getting jittery.

    But [having said that] I'm sure Rin's sales would surge. Waiting to see what Tide does.

  4. Nothing wrong at one level, with this sort of work, it is competitive, but seems a bit dated (and very boring) to me. Like a lot of the comments suggest, it is relatively easy to execute bigger/faster/better, but far more difficult (and possibly rewarding) to say different.

    Am frankly a bit surprised that they are executing this, given that they're attempting a shift with the spark of ingenuity "brand" films they've been doing in the recent past. At least there, I felt Rin was attempting an interesting sort of comeback.

    • Good point. With the all the focus on them having compared Tide directly, everyone forgot to notice the actual creative – which is not in the same league as some of the new work from the HUL stable.

  5. Current market share of Rin is 4.2 and Tide is 8.8

    No wonder, rin team is rubbing their asss to increase market share….But, i am surprised to see the ad….they are so desperate and gone to the extreeme….Not good…

  6. The ad is illegal because of two things:

    1. Ad voice over says "Rin is better than Tide" while the visual shows "Tide Naturals" a cheaper variant of Tide. hence if the tests which HUL claims are true against "Tide Naturals" then pointing out "Tide" is blatant lie and HUL should be sued for millions of dollars for defaming a brand againt which it doesnt hold superiority.

    2. while it's been an industry practice to say my brand give amazing benefit Vs. "ordinary brand" and exxagerate the benefit for dramatic effect. But if this ordinary brand is given a "name" (like "Tide " in this case) one cannot exxagerate benefit. So even if Rin is able to claim "better whiteness" than the cheaper version of tide , "Tide Naturals" the difference in shirts show it's an exaggerated difference as what's shown can never be reality even if the other shirt is washed with plain water! This is again disparagement of a competitor's brand.

    The back ground to HUL's desperation is the culmination of two things:

    1. Rin is at it's lowest share in 7 years at 4.6% (down from 7.2% in 2003) . on the other hand Tide at 8.8% has become almost double the size of Rin powders despite being a very new player (up from 2.4% in Jan 2003)

    2. The pressure from global Unilever on the Indian arm to deliver results at any cost has led to such unethical aggression. But for sure approval for such ads cannot have been given by anyone below the rank of Inits India head.

  7. Abhishek Pandey Reply

    Be it Ethical or Unethical, Legal or Illegal, Hats of to their guts and the timing for launching such a Campaign…Long Weekend, Holi time….what better time than this…Also we may feel its Illegal but more than 50% of customers would have believed the commercial as it was on a National Television (when in India, People can believe in news like the one shown on India TV y cant this blatant claim by Rin). What could have more helped this thought would have been the constant hitting by High Frequency of Ad shown during the weekend (Infact i got fed up the number of time this ad was seen).

    I am sure now the ad would be off air, but the damage for Tide has been done and something soon can be expected of them…Offensive Ads are finally here in India and soon many would follow…

    • Abhishek, agree totally. The task of getting the ad noticed is complete. Not sure if damage has been done to Tide.

  8. My take is P&G won't react any soon. They have a sound philosphy and have got their fundamentals in place, I dont see any strong impact, infact even if there is one P&G won't go for a straight offence. Interesting it is though.

    • Rin is thinking tht this kind of Ad will increase their sales/shares/wht ever else but it only shows their attitude which will not be accepted by ppl.ultimately the loosers will be Rin and not the TIDE.

      This Ad creates a kind of sympathy towards Tide which increases Tide sales even more.

      I think with this ad Rin has done a good thing to increase the sales of TIDE indirectly. 🙂 :-).

      RIN has applied BAD Strategy which even worse RIN sales.



  10. Dharmaraj Waghmare Reply

    Advertising theories , ethos , tricks, wisdom rules are all borrowed from Western hemisphere. Where is the Indianness – cultural values , tolarance , non interference or exessive interferance , non agression ? All advertisers need to understand that they can build appeal and goodwill in India only through gentle cajoling , soft appealing , humour , storyrtelling and bening decent to others .

  11. Henry Leon Raja Reply

    RIN is confusing the consumers.This will only have a strong irritation from the public.This stupid advt should be withdrawn. Now I Know how cheaply HUL has come done for a street fight.This reflex the kind of people employed at HUL.

  12. kumar utpal kant Reply

    i hv read ur blogs n all d statements.really it's very useful 2 me n i hv agreed that dis was nt a correct step by 'HUL'.we r indians n we hv 2 follow our country's rules n regulation as well as ethics n cultures….we indians r emotional by nature n after this controversy,most of indians would hv in support of 'TIDE'….n i thnk so nw TIDE vl nt react b'cz TIDE is in benefit nw by most of ppl supports in his favour…just wait n watch

  13. anurag chakraborty Reply

    such a advt. confuses the customers

    It creates bad image to its brand name

    It is not done , by such a reputed company.

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