Comparative Messaging, Does it Really Work?

Comparative messaging, does it really work?

In short, no. Almost universally across our clients, ads that make comparative claims are less effective at achieving campaign objectives.

Caveat: Yes. If you are trying to appeal to a demographic that is looking to overturn the current social order.

If you’re thinking about comparing yourself to a competitor or substitute, try this instead

Comparative messaging is about trying to change a consumer’s perception of one brand versus another. Researchers have demonstrated that this strategy, generally speaking, does not work. If you’re seeking to upend the established order, apply these principles instead:

  • Focus on the value your solution adds for the consumer, without referencing the category leader or a substitute
    Avoid making comparisons and references to the category leader (this may otherwise validate their position as the leader)

Tell me more

Comparative messaging seeks to shift a consumer’s perception of the hierarchy that exists between brands. 

We use hierarchy to help us make sense of things, how things in a similar group fit together. We use them in virtually all facets of life. From the formal; our managers and bosses. To the informal; Nordstrom v Bloomingdale’s v Macy’s. 

We are also, generally, a conservative bunch. Slow to change an established order and resistant to external efforts to change our understanding of the world. This effect is even more powerful if you support the status-quo.

Because comparative messaging seeks to challenge our understanding of the status-quo; it appears to invoke a bullshit-sensing type of antibodies that reduces the efficacy of this approach. 

Changing our understanding of the world and the established hierarchy is a slow-moving beast. Moreover, we tend to be resistant to overt appeals to immediately change that hierarchy. Better to focus on your product’s superiority over your competitors.  

If you’d like to learn more about how Perceptly can help you improve campaign performance, set-up a time to speak with us.

Source: Li, X, Barone, MJ, Jain, SP, Kwon, M. The Challenge of Being a Challenger: Social Dominance Orientation Shapes the Impact of “Challenger vs. Leader” Comparisons. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2021; 31: 55– 71