Direct Comparison Ads: Do They Work Best?

June 16, 2009

49d620c72962eAdvertising works when it is done right. There is no question in that.  Companies spend millions of dollars on ad campaigns trying to target the right market and convince them of something.

I have always been somewhat of a self-appointed critic of advertising.  Partially because of my fascination with the industry and partially because I have very strong opinions.  I love investigating what the ad is saying, where the message is coming from, and whether or not it is successful.

Sometimes you see an ad on TV and you think to yourself, how did this make it out of the original brainstorming discussion?  Other times you see something that blows you away and you wonder how someone could dream it up.

Lately there is an intriguing trend that I thought was worth analyzing.  Direct comparison ads are becoming quite popular, and companies are sticking with them for an extended period of time.  So one has to think that they see better results.

Direct comparison ads, for the sake of this post, are any advertisement that calls out the competition blatantly and says why one product is better than the other.  Some companies that are currently running these type of ads are Microsoft (vs Apple), Apple (vs PCs), 5 Hour Energy (vs Energy Drinks), Time Warner (vs Verizon Fios), Dominoes (vs Subway/Quiznos), and Total Cereal (vs Go Lean).  There are many others as well but that is enough to prove my point.

This has long been a popular style of advertising, going right after the competition and trying to lure away customers because of a claim that you are better.  That are rules and guidelines surrounding it, and you have to be careful about what you do and do not say about the competition.  But, if executed well, these companies have seen that the effects can be strong.

For a long time Apple ate away at the market for personal computers with their “Mac/PC” ads showcasing how easy Macs were to use.  Now, Microsoft has countered with ads featuring “real people” looking for new computers and choosing the more affordable, just as useful, Dell or HPs with Windows.  And those ads have resulted in a spike in purchased of those PCs over Apple Computers.

My only issue with this type of ad campaign is that you run the risk of sounding bad.  Personal attacks against other brands can come back to bite you if A) They are found to be incorrect or B) The competition changes something to top you.  Personally, I have found that Time Warner makes some useless claims in their direct comparison ads (such as comparing the ease of reading the bill with that of Fios).  I have Time Warner, and the bill is confusing.

What do you think?  Do you find direct comparison to be effective?  Let me know why or why not in the comments below.

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Say Hello to BING Today

June 1, 2009

bingMicrosoft’s brand new attempt at building a search engine to compete with Google went live today, it’s BingTry it out.

Clearly there will be much to come on the subject, but initial reports are positive.  The search engine, which was announced last week, did not get the hype that recent search engine “Cuil” got before its release, but it’s already better.

There is nothing that will really blow you away initially, but it is a solid effort all around by Microsoft to get back into the search game.  The results are good for most every search that I tried this morning.  And comparing the results for the same searches in Google varies, sometimes Bing was actually better (more accurate).

Some features that stood out to me include the recent searches tool, a video playback for all video searches, and an enhanced local search with one click map and directions.  In addition, I think the best feature is within specific categories, the sidebar becomes a tool to narrow down your search. For example, if you search local bars in New York City, you can narrow down searches based on price, neighborhood, ratings, style, etc.

Bing is currently a trending topic on Twitter, and most of the comments seem to be pretty positive.  Here is an initial review from TechCrunch, which also discusses how positive the early feedback from users has been.

All of this is before Microsoft has spent a reported $100 Million to advertise the search engine.  We will see what the campaign is all about soon enough, but the word out of the Microsoft camp is that they are going straight at Google.  Time will tell if that is a smart strategy or not, but Microsoft has to be happy by what they have seen already this morning.

Having said all that, Bing is by no means the answer to the question of where is online search headed.  It’s strange that Microsoft would invest so much in what many consider to be the end of the current search era. With companies like Google, Yahoo, and Twitter investing in the future of search (real-time solutions), Microsoft almost seems to be jumping into a game in the 4th quarter.

Nonetheless, give the new service a try.  If you have used it already, let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Innovation for Innovation Sake

June 18, 2008

I talk alot about innovation.  It takes a lot to be innovative, and I congratulate all those people and companies who continue to innovate in ways that make our lives easier every day.  But sometimes, and its rare, you have to be wary of the innovation for innovation’s sake mentality.

When bigger companies try to change the way they do things, sometimes they abandon the very customers that they are trying to help.  This is a common problem in large companies that are trying to release new products or services.  One example is Microsoft with the release of the Vista operating system.

First, I have to commend a company like Microsoft for continuing to change things in a market that they have dominated for years now.  But Vista was an innovation that should never have made it to the public.  It takes a certain amount of control and foresight to see when something is not going to work, and with Vista, I strongly believe that someone should have seen the direction it was heading and called it off.

The goal of Vista, as I see it, was to make an operating system built around the company’s strengths that is more user friendly and as close to an Apple product as Microsoft has ever come.  They wanted to please everyone at once to try to hault the sudden growth in popularity of Macs.  However, in doing this, they left their strongest and most loyal customers high and dry.

Microsoft has always catered to big businesses.  The biggest market for Microsoft products are large companies that continue to use updated Microsoft products within their organization.  However, Vista does not address the very things that businesses want.  In fact, it would not make sense for any company running Windows XP to switch to Vista, even without all the complex errors that come with it.

Microsoft abandoned their core market by trying to do something that was very different than what had worked for them in the past.  A company like Microsoft, facing new, feircer competition has to do something different.  But, changing their core product to the point that it is unrecognizable is not the kind of innovation that they should aim for.