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The Dos and Don’ts of Attack Ads

June 24, 2009 // By: j_brennan

During tough times the gloves come off.  You start seeing more and more attack ads... ads in which one brand chooses to compare itself with a competitor in a way that could damage the integrity of either party.  The format is as old as advertising itself and can net you huge gains or huge lawyer fees.


Take these three current campaigns as examples of how results may vary:


Campbell Soup Co. recently launched a campaign attacking Progresso.  The successful ads boosted Campbell’s condensed and ready-to-serve soup sales by 6% and 4%, respectively.


Domino’s also found success in attack advertising.  A recent campaign attacking Subway claimed that Domino’s subs beat Subway’s subs in a national taste test.  As a result, Domino’s reported a 1% same-store-sales gain for the quarter.


A recent attack campaign conducted by Oscar Mayer ended differently.  After claiming that their hot dogs were #1 in sales and beat Sara Lee’s in a taste test (both dubious), Sara Lee took the challenger to court, claiming the add damaged their hot dog sales, profits, business relationships, reputation and goodwill.  They are seeking an injunction, corrective advertising, and punitive damages among other things.


Attacks ads must be constructed very carefully to avoid expensive court battles and loss of market share.  Creating a successful attack ad involves research and careful language selection. 


If you’re on the attack trail, be sure follow these guidelines when you pounce on your competitors:


-         Don’t name your competitor directly. Instead use “some of our competitors, other leading brands, etc.”

-         Stay positive.  Your product is “healthier”, not “less fatty.”

-         Back up your claims with science and up-to-date data.

-         Have a contingency plan.

-         Don’t steal you’re competitor’s claims.

Topics: advertising agency, advertising agency blog, Advertising Trends, attack advertisements, jason brennan, stream companies