Comparative Advertising

One promotional decision that often presents marketers with a dilemma 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 said to encourage competition between brands, which can lead top 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 – Vivitar, a photographic equipment manufacturer, ran an ad naming Kodak products and dramatically boosted its sales; public awareness of Avis and Datril increased significantly when they compared themselves to Hertz and Tylenol, respectively; and Pepsi claims to have increased its market share from its taste test advertising campaign using Coke as the other brand. However, when responding to surveys about the issue, consumers frequently indicate a dislike of comparative ads because they find them lacking in reliability and usefulness. 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 judgment for purchase decision. 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 perceived as childish or immature. This can quickly lead consumers to conclude that both companies lack credibility, and brand images may suffer accordingly.

These examples indicate the relevance of consumer behavior to marketing management decision making. However, it is also useful to consider other areas where knowledge of consumers has significant practical application.

Consumer Behavior and Non profit and Social Marketing:

Can crime prevention, charitable contribution, or the concept of family planning be sold to people in much the same way that some business firms sell soap? A number of writers have suggested that various social and non profit organizations can be viewed as having services or ideas that they are attempting to market to target groups of consumers or constituents. Such organizations include government

Agencies, religious orders, universities, and charitable institutions — often these groups must appeal to the public for support in addition to attempting to satisfy some want or need in society. Clearly, a sound understanding of consumer decision processes can assist their efforts.

Consider, for example the benefits such knowledge would have to administrators of the American Cancer Society. Two major tasks of this organization are (1) to solicit public contributions for support of cancer research and (2) to encourage regular physical examination for early detection of the diseases. Regarding the first task, fundamental information such as the characteristics of potential contributors, what motivates their generosity, and how these motives can be most effectively appealed to, is highly useful. Similarly, a sound basis for developing methods of encouraging regular physical examination would include specific knowledge of reasons why the exams are avoided – the expense, the time involved, the fear of learning about an illness, and so on.

Many other examples demonstrate the fundamental role a consumer orientation plays in nonprofit and social marketing endeavors.

Consumer Behavior and Governmental Decision making:

In recent years the relevance of consumer behavior principles to governmental decision making has become quite evident. Two major areas of activity have been affected: (1) government policies that provide services to the public or result in decisions that influence consumer behavior and (2) the design of legislation to protect consumers or to assist them in evaluating products and services