Comparative and Noncomparative Advertising

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Dhruv Grewal, Sukumar Kavanoor, Edward F. Fern, Carolyn Costley, & James Barnes

Comparative Versus Noncomparative Advertising: A Meta-Analysis Previous research and reviews on comparative advertising report mixed results. The authors report the results from a meta-analysis that examines the efficacy of comparative advertising. The analysis shows that comparative ads are more effective than noncomparative ads in generating attention, message and brand awareness, levels of message processing, favorable sponsored brand attitudes, and increased purchase intentions and purchase behaviors. However, comparative ads evoke lower source believability and a less favorable attitude toward the ad. Additional analyses of moderator variables find that market position (sponsor, comparison, and relative), enhanced credibility, message content, and type of dependent measure (relative versus nonrelative) affect some of the relationships between advertising format and cognition, brand attitudes, and purchase intentions. New brands comparing themselves to established brands appear to benefit most from comparative advertising.


omparative advertising has become increasingly prevalent in the United States media. Some examples of the many advertising campaigns using comparative advertising include MCI comparing its long-distance call prices and service to AT&T; VISA comparing the number of merchants accepting its credit card to American Express; Burger King comparing its cooking method to McDonald's; and various beverage producers challenging competitors in taste tests. Recent estimates indicate that comparative advertising formats account for one-third of all advertisements (Neiman 1987; Stewart and Furse 1986) and close to 80% of all television commercials (Pechmann and Stewart 1990b). Comparative advertising's increased popularity may be partly due to the Federal Trade Commission's informal encouragement of explicit comparisons (Tannenbaum 1974; Wilkie and Farris 1975), as well as to advertisers' beliefs in its effectiveness. The FTC rationalized that explicit comparative advertisements deliver infonnation previously unavailable to consumers (Wilkie and Farris 1975). The FTC's implicit encouragement of brand comparisons, along with relaxed restrictions and competitor and media concerns (Tannenbaum 1974), sparked the research interest of academicians and practitioners alike. The effectiveness of comparative advertising, according to the large body of extant empirical research, is equivocal. Some investigators conclude that comparative advertising Dhruv Grewal is Associate Professor of Marketing, University of Miami. Sukumar Kavanoor is a marketing consuitant, The Janus Group. Edward Fern Is Associate Professor of Marketing, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Carolyn Costley Is a lecturer. University of Waikato. James Barnes is Professor of Marketing, University of Mississippi. This article has benefited from the comments and suggestions of Connie Pechmann, Paul Miniard, Diana Grewal, and the four anonymous JM reviewers. The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support from a University of Miami Summer Research Grant.

provides advantages that are not associated with noncomparative advertising (e.g., Droge and Darmon 1987; Miniard et al. 1993; Pechmann and Ratneshwar 1991; Pechmann and Stewart 1990a; Rose et al. 1993). Others report that comparative advertising produces undesirable outcomes (e.g.. Belch 1981; Golden 1979; Goodwin and Etgar 1980; Levine 1976; Swinyard 1981). These conflicting opinions do not seem to deter major consumer goods and service corporations from using comparative advertising in their promotional mix. The prevalence of comparative ads in the face of the conflicting empirical evidence about their effectiveness suggests that this topic should be important to researchers and practitioners. There have been several attempts to consolidate research findings in this area (e.g., Barry 1993;...
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