Attack of the Attack ads

Lauren Fried, Pulse Marketing, managing director
By Lauren Fried, Pulse Marketing, managing director | 13 November 2015
Lauren Fried

‘Attack’ advertising, also known as comparative advertising, has been around for a long time, some say as early as the 18th century, and some countries such as the United States seem to thrive on them, with reportedly about 5% of all advertising being in this style.

This is the type of advertising which pits brand against brand – when a brand takes on the market leader directly and compares its product against the number one seller. Some prime examples of attack ads include the war between Pepsi and Coca-Cola, with one particular US Pepsi advertisement springing to mind. It portrays young people in the distant future finding a relic (a Coke bottle) so ancient they cannot identify it. Or the global campaign of Mac vs PC.

We recently looked at just this topic on Gruen and it got me thinking – why doesn’t Australia have attack advertising? And here are the five key reasons Australia has got this one right.

1.     It’s fraught with danger
While comparative advertising is not illegal, advertising codes of conduct still apply. Mainly, it must not be misleading or deceptive, meaning it must be like for like in every way, and the ‘test conditions’ must be in real life. Another trap could be when you’re dealing with a product that rapidly changes, such as mobile phone deals, as it may be true and correct when you are planning your campaign, then change before or while you’re on air.

2.     They rely on more attention
So as not to be misleading, comparative ads need to be driven by facts, and this means this type of advertising can be a bit dry with lots of stats and data. This also means more attention to detail needs to be given by the audience. A win for the brand? Possibly, however, with limited attention spans and busy lives there could be other more effective means to pull in your target market.

3.     Aussie audiences demand more
Facts and data are not for everyone and Australian audiences are also savvy these days, tuning out to a hard sell. They want creativity, fun and something that stirs their emotions.

4.     Negativity is always risky
Political advertising is a great example of the true meaning of attack advertising. They are all about gaining an advantage by highlighting the negative aspects of the opponent rather than their own positive attributes. And in Australia we love an underdog, so this tactic may backfire.

5.     Would you spruik your competition?
Comparative advertising inevitably shares the spotlight with another brand and it needs to be weighed up whether this will be beneficial or detrimental. Perhaps this is why the United States is more comfortable with attack ads given they have a much larger market and target audience, and they can afford to give the competition even more airtime.

By Lauren Fried

Pulse Marketing

Managing director


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