Business Psychology - Latest Findings

Article No. 225
Customer Psychology Findings, by James Larsen, Ph.D.

Comparison Advertising

Research settles the question of the effectiveness of comparison ads.

If you use comparisons in your store advertising, then Amitava Chattopadhyay, from the University of British Columbia, has research findings that will interest you.

Put yourself in front of your television and imagine yourself watching a snappy ad for alkaline batteries. The music is lively and the pictures are vivid. The script extols the battery's virtues, and it claims that it last longer than other brands.

In an experiment that used such an ad, 213 adults exhibited a familiar pattern: when the brand of the battery was familiar, they liked the ad and had favorable attitudes toward it, but when the brand was unfamiliar, their attitudes were completely different. They didn't like the ad or the brand. And it was the same ad!

Chattopadhyay expected this. Unknown brands frequently encounter negative bias, but there are strategies to overcome it. The most popular is to make specific comparisons with the leading brand (which is named) on an important product feature. This was the actual subject of Chattopadhyay's research because comparison ads frequently use this tactic, even though past research has failed to reveal a consistently positive effect for it. Could it be that this past research is correct and that executives are wasting their money using it?

Chattopadhyay told his subjects they were going to evaluate a new television show, then he tagged his battery commercial onto the end of a 15-minute segment of it. Half of his subjects saw ads without comparisons, and half saw comparison ads. Next, he divided the subjects again, and half reacted immediately to what they had seen while the other half were sent home and returned a week later to report their reactions.

Adults who reacted immediately to the ads did not reveal any differences between the comparison ads and those that made no comparisons. They reported similar feelings about the ads and the brands.

Adults who reacted to the ads after a one-week delay did reveal differences. They reported significantly more positive attitudes about the ads and the brands if they had seen the comparison ads, but only if the brand was unfamiliar. When the brand was well known, the one-week delay made no difference in their reactions to the comparison ads.

Recall that immediate reactions to the unfamiliar brand were decidedly negative. The one-week delay affected these attitudes. For those who saw the comparison ad, the delay caused them to form positive attitudes toward the brand. For those viewing the con-comparison ad, the delay caused them to form neutral attitudes. Groups who had reacted immediately to these ads had reported negative attitudes.

Chattopadhyay's research investigated attitudes toward a product, and business owners often need effective advertising strategies for products they carry, but the principle Chattopadhyay discovered need not be limited to product advertising. It would also apply to more common advertising situations for business owners, ones that wish to promote the business itself.

If your name is unfamiliar, yet you compare favorably with a well-known, leading name, then comparison ads will work for you. If your name is familiar, they won't. Chattopadhyay explains the principles he believes control people's thinking:

Most ads fail to stimulate thinking. We see them and forget them. So a goal of advertisers is to stimulate thinking by getting people to mentally elaborate on the ad message, especially by encouraging people to imagine themselves using the product or patronizing the business. Making a favorable comparison between an unknown name and a familiar name both attracts attention and stimulates thinking. People wonder if the claim is true. This wondering is exactly the response advertisers are hoping to stimulate, but it doesn't reveal its potency right away. The delay overcomes the immediate, typical negative bias against unfamiliar brands; and the memory of the wondering about the product claim creates a favorable impression of the product or of the business that people remember.

Reference: Chattopadhyay, Amitava (1998) When Does Comparative Advertising Influence Brand Attitude? The Role of Delay and Market Position. Psychology and Marketing, 15(5), 461-475.

© Management Resources

Back to home page