Regulating and Comparative Advertising

A number of products particularly tooth pastes began making claims about the plaque and tartar fighting capabilities of new mouthwashes and toothpastes. Under FDA regulations, advertisements incorporating plaque control claims are allowed for toothpaste because the mechanical act of brushing with or without toothpaste helps remove plaque.

However, the FDA requires proof of any claims that certain materials in mouth washes or toothpaste can themselves reduce plaque and help the user avoid the problem of gingivitis (gum disease). The FDA‘s position is that consumers should be protected against claims not substantiated by research.

The FDA has maintained that none of the plaque and gingivitis fighting claims made by six producers of mouthwash and toothpaste have been sufficiently substantiated by the evidence provided, especially regarding gingivitis. Therefore they have  warned these companies (Colgate Palmolive, Beechan, Pfizer, SC Johnson & Son and others), about the claims made in their ads.

In early 90s this left Colgate Palmolive in the position of holding off US introduction of its antiplaque gum protection toothpaste containing triclosan an antibacterial agent. This toothpaste was already on the market in several other countries but FDA standards regarding substantiation of advertising claims to protect consumers delayed US introduction.

Unfortunately, it appears that the effect of many consumer protection efforts has been considerably less than expected, and in some cases the efforts may actually have had negative results for consumers. Often this occurs because officials have based their decisions on inadequate understanding of consumers and how they process information.

Comparative advertising:

One promotional decision that often presents marketers with a problem is whether to use comparative advertising. This method of promotion is designed to compare the company’s brand directly against a competitor’s. The practice has been encouraged by the US Federal Trade Commission under the belief that the technique is an effective way to present product information on which consumers can base their purchase decisions. It also is said to encourage competition between brands, which can lead to lower prices and product improvements. The problem is that evidence is not clear on how consumers react to comparative ads. There certainly seem to be successful aspects to numerous comparative campaigns. A photographic equipment manufacturer, ran an ad naming Kodak products and dramatically boosted its sales. Pepsi claims to have increased its market share from its taste test advertising campaign using Coke as the other brand.

Studies have also found that such advertisements can confuse consumers and foster negative attitudes toward the promoted brand. As  a result, consumers may respond by feeling they should  disregard the advertisements and use their own judgement for purchase decisions. Perhaps the worst situation is when the competing brand responds in a hostile manner to a comparative ad, as Coke did to the Pepsi Challenge taste tests.  The fighting that may occur (and did in this situation), can be childish or immature. This can quickly lead consumers to conclude that both companies lack credibility and brand images may suffer accordingly.

It is important to note that repetition of an advertisement leads to a learning curve pattern. In these cases, the number of times the advertising message is repeated and the extent to which the consumers learn the message has to be judged by the marketer by some means. Of course marketers must determine whether this general pattern actually fits their particular products and situations. For example, it may not describe learning in some low involvement situations in which fewer repetitions might be necessary for storing simple facts, such as brand names, in memory. A marketer must be willing to repeat an advertising message a significant number of times. This is also why a brand name may be repeated several times in just one advertisement. After repeating messages many times, the marketer pays for small increases in consumer learning.

Advertising messages are subject to wear out and manipulation by audience members. That is, as the number of message repetitions increases, boredom can result, inattention can increase and audience members may not care for the message due to their own less positive thoughts about the message. This type of evidence might tempt the marketer  to stop advertising after a point of time.

If a message  is not repeated consumers tend to forget most of it very rapidly. This indicates the need to repeat advertisements merely to maintain the consumers’ level of learning . One strategy that might reduce wear out and other negative consequences of repetition is to repeat the basic content of an advertising message while periodically changing the method of doing , to maintain consumer interests . An additional advantage of such variety is that it could encourage consumers to engage in deeper processing of the basic message in order to facilitate learning and memory. It actually may also encourage positive  feelings towards the brand