Recently I saw online banner ads for Buy.com that said: 10% off Amazon.com on over 900,000 books. This made me wonder why the banner is not saying: get books for 10% less than at any online bookstore. By referring to Amazon.com in their advertisement, Buy.com is doing two major mistakes. First, they are doing some free advertisement for Amazon.com and acknowledging it as the leading bookstore online. Second, it is loosing its own identity as a bookstore. What is the unique reason someone should go to Buy.com? Because it has 900,000 books (which may not cover the entire long tail) that are also at Amazon.com but 10% cheaper. If there were only 2 online bookstores, this ad would have made a little more sense, but when there are a zillion out there, and you want price to be your USP, why not say any online bookstore and gain an identity that we sell books at cheapest rate?
Another example that falls in this category is the commercial of Hyundai Azera, where the comparison is made to Lexus LS460. Hyundai can claim that it is a smart move to compare its model with a car far more popular and expensive, and provoke the customer to think why not buy a car more economical when it has all the same features except a fancy one. But to look at the flip side of the coin, the commercial does a huge favor for Lexus. Any customer will have a natural instinct to explore and find out what else is there is LS460 that makes it more expensive, and I can bet that a Lexus sales person will be able to point many if you ask him/her. I think the Hyundai commercial also makes a statement about the buyer of this car. Isn’t it saying that this person is driving an Azera because he could not (or may be would not) afford a Lexus LS460?
Many companies use this kind of advertising strategy where they explicitly mention the name of a competitor in their advertisements. I think just by comparing, the brand exposes a natural inferiority about its own product. But, if for some reason, you find a necessity to compare on a mass scale like in an advertisement, it’s always better to generalize the comparison without naming any other company.
One thing to make clear is that finger-pointing comparison has nothing to do with modestly acknowledging that you are not at the number one position. There are far better ways to do that. The first example that comes to mind is Avis. The car rental company so wonderfully campaigned saying: we are number 2: so we try harder. Yes, they are comparing here, but no one knows just from this statement with whom. And as Avis gained market share, they kicked out the “we are number 2” part, making its tagline “We try harder”.
To summarize, we all know that comparison is inevitable, and in most cases, customer will do the comparison before making a buying decision. If as a brand you want to force the comparison, do it in a way that it benefits more to you than to your competitors and make sure there is no chance of backfiring.