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truth in advertising

Escalating Ad Wars Lead To The Courtroom

Posted by Abe Sauer on November 23, 2009 12:54 PM

After grabbing myself a slice at World-Famous Original Ray's Pizza, I wanted to find all the news that was fit to print, and was surprised by a New York Times piece on the sharp increase in brands suing each other over false claims.

So far, 2009 has seen 82 formal complaints over ad claims, according to The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, on track to exceed last year’s record of 84 challenges, up almost 40% from four years ago.

While the "studies show" tactic of demonstrating one brand's superiority over competitors is an ad cliché, those ads typically have used "other leading brands" as their contrast. Now, increasingly ruthless competition has seen brands outright naming, and denouncing, competitors. These lawsuits include DirectTV's claim about Charter Communication's service. Or AT&T's complaint, after Verizon Wireless attacked their spotty coverage with their mocking tagline, "There's a map for that."

According to the Times:

The cases themselves might seem a little absurd — an argument over hyped-up advertising copy that not many consumers even take at face value. Pantene has attacked Dove’s claim that its conditioner “repairs” hair better, and Iams has been challenged on one of its lines, “No other dog food stacks up like Iams."

In the Dove-Pantene case, the former ran ads touting "a study on breakage in a 200-strokes-per-tresses test, and had an expert defend its decision to use the 'wet combing' method rather than 'dry combing.'"

The 2008 smackdown between Campbell and Progresso -- an escalating battle in which the two normally staid soup brands counter-attacked each other's ingredients -- reads like an example of "going negative" in campaign advertising. It has yet to be seen if "World's Best" kitty litter brand will be asked to rename.

Apple's anti-PC "I'm a Mac" ads may show the limits of an attack-ad strategy. While striking and fresh in the beginning, the ads have become increasingly focused on the failings of PCs (and Microsoft), rather than Apple's own brand assets. Tearing down other brands is not brand building. When a brand begins to define itself by its competition, it loses some control, and can easily suffer the consequences when that competitor brand updates, improves or proves it false.

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