Purpose – Extant research on comparative advertising has focused only on “market leader” comparisons (a brand targeting the market leader), whereas in the marketplace, “multi-brand” comparisons are more prevalent (Kalro et al., 2010). Moreover, most research focuses on direct comparisons only. Hence, this research aims to investigate the interplay between comparison ad strategy (“market leader”/“multi-brand” comparisons) and comparison ad format (direct/indirect comparisons) on the effectiveness of comparative advertising. Design/methodology/approach – This paper uses four 2 2 fully crossed factorial designs (comparison ad format: direct vs indirect and comparison ad strategy: market leader vs multi brand) with established and new brands in two categories: powdered detergents and smart phones. All studies were conducted in metropolitan cities of India. Findings – By and large, the experiments indicated that direct (indirect) comparisons lowered (heightened) perceived manipulative intent and enhanced (reduced) attitude-toward-the-ad for multi-brand (market leader) comparisons. Practical implications – Findings suggest that when advertisers use comparative advertising, they may use direct ads when using multi-brand comparisons and use indirect ones when using market leader comparisons. It could also be argued that when advertisers use multi-brand comparisons because of fragmentation in the marketplace, they may directly compare against these multiple brands. When advertisers need to compare against a market leader, they may do so indirectly. Originality/value – This research is among the first to investigate multi-brand comparisons that are widely used in the industry and that too in the context of both direct and indirect comparison formats.
Comparative advertising has been studied in developed countries for quite some time (Beard, 2013), possibly because the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) legalized its use in 1979. However, in recent times comparative ads are growing fast even in emerging markets like India (Irani, 2009; Kalro et al., 2010), Philippines (Millward Brown, 2009) and China (Wageman and Tang, 2012). Some recent comparative ad campaigns include Samsung attacking Apple’s iPhone 6 launch with a string of advertisements called “It doesn’t take a Genius” (Chambers, 2014), “Microsoft mocking Apple-Samsung rivalry in latest Lumia ad” (Chawla, 2013) and Bing explicitly comparing its search performance to Google (Sayed and Hulley, 2013). The use of comparative advertising is not a new phenomenon. Even before the formal approval for the use of comparisons in advertisements by the FTC in the USA in 1979 (Ash and Wee, 1983), advertisers conveniently used the “Brand X” approach of comparative advertising, where they implicitly referred to the leading brand, an ordinary brand or an immediate competitor in that category (Muehling and Kangun, 1985). Since then, there has been no let-up in the use of comparative ads in developed (Beard, 2014; The Economist, 2009) and increasingly developing countries (Chatterjee and Sahadeva, 2013; Kalro et al., 2010). The rise in comparative advertising then spawned considerable research in this area. Between the 1970s and the early 1990s, researchers investigated the effectiveness of comparative advertisements (specifically direct comparisons) vis-a`-vis non-comparative advertisements. Despite considerable research on comparative advertising, there was no accord among the researchers on the effectiveness or otherwise of comparative advertising (Grewal et al., 1997). For example, one school of researchers (Dröge, 1989; Grewal et al., 1997) claimed that comparative ads were more effective than non-comparative ads in terms of generating attention, message recall and brand awareness, heightening involvement, providing more information and enhancing favorable sponsored brand attitudes. On the other hand, the other school (Belch, 1981; Goodwin and Etgar, 1980) reported that comparative advertising produced undesirable consequences such as evoking lower source believability, encouraging competition reprisal through lawsuits and being perceived as more offensive. Hence, of late, the focus of research has been to show that the effectiveness of comparative advertising depends on certain moderating conditions. For instance, Choi and Miracle (2004) show that national culture influences the effectiveness of comparative advertising; further, they also demonstrate that self-construal has mediating effects on attitudes toward the advertisement for both indirect comparative ads and non-comparative ads. Polyorat and Alden (2005) find that comparative ads (non-comparative ads) produce more positive brand attitudes and stronger purchase intentions for high (low) need for cognition consumers.