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How Comparisons Kill Your Business (and Grow Your Competitors')

The following is a sponsored post by Commune Media.


  1. pete mosley
    pete mosley October 8, 2008

    I know it is generally more de rigeur to offer “happy-talk” platitudes and nicey-nicey “pats on the head” here in comments on One Degree.
    But seriously folks…
    First of all – was this an advertorial?
    This is just like having some slick-suited Biz Dev people doing seminars – come on. First, who is the author? Are they advertising experts? What ads have they written? Have we seen them? Do they even work in the “AD” biz? Yep they do web copy.
    Advertising ain’t web copy.
    And what is the basis for this view?(Small thing like credentials would help?)
    If it is an anecdotal observation and opinion – way cool. That is why we have water coolers at the office – everyone is an expert at advertising. Leave it there.
    Second – the essence, I believe, of what – whomever it is that is writing this – is just “poking a stick” at advertising that does not have a USP*, nor speaks to the benefits of a product or service. It isn’t about a comparative theory.
    This is not anecdotal BTW. There is proof and years and years of considered thought, expert opinion and research into what exactly IS effective advertising.
    The”er” stuff is generally categorized under the first two parts of the “Blessed Trinity” called FAB. Features, Advantages and Benefits. Or if you go down the Brand tree it is about product class advertising rather than brand advertising.
    Now, for the record – most ads are imperfect. And that is me being very, very kind. Truthfully most ads suck. Full stop.
    They are created with an imperfect process (Read they are really shitty…) cause they have clients approving and paying for them who really are not ad experts (Clients, who’s main gig is to keep their own jobs, not take any chances and be as politically correct as their Grade 7 teachers taught em), they have tons of legal hoops to jump through and they have no doubt some sort of committee decision making process that weakens the communications decision process – if not totally killing it.
    Also most agencies in this nasty climate (and it has been a nasty climate since the last recession. Hey, did it ever stop?) believe “A good campaign is a client approved campaign!”
    So lets not be too harsh on what we see out there – I bet the original concepts for any damn ad we see was a killer.
    It has been like that for eons. That is why we have “better” ads. And “stupid husband” ads… and ads with large company presidents in them… no not large guys who are presidents .. you get what I mean …
    and a gazillion other crappy Canadian TV, radio and print ads.
    It comes with the territory kids. Lets not use that flaw as a basis for a “shoot from the hip” theory of comparative advertising.
    Net/net clients get the advertising they deserve. Anyway je digress …
    Third, the idea of “concrete’ and resonance is a disconnect – things that resonate with people are most likely “emotional”. Like brands. Like feelings. Like aspirations or fears or desires. We don’t need faster cars we WANT faster cars. We don’t need a new Big Momma Driver WE REALLY REALLY NEED THE BIG MOMMA DRIVER THAT TIGER USES!!! Oh and the golf guys have been using “er” ads quite successfully for 20 years. This ball goes farther, that driver goes farther etc etc… actually it is about product parity and brand differentiation. Ooops je digress encore, again!
    Nobody buys a car cause it goes fast. They buy a fast car to make them more manly, way tougher and well, to get laid. And probably to offset a physical “short-coming”
    Sorry I had to say it. (Pauses til snickers die down.)
    Resonance has a greater chance of happening when we speak about the benefits of a brand or service. And most likely if you are a professional in this game you are keeping in mind at all steps along the way the USP* The USP is the #1 play in that camp.
    And we all know that the brand is in the eye of the beholder. Ergo how we feel about a product or service.
    When clients decide that THEY own the brand, not the customer – that is when you get a lot of shitty ads. And sadly to try and attempt to analyze crappy ads – well, it don’t work.
    I am not sure what the universities and colleges are teaching for the basics in Advertising 101 these days – but there are some strong fundamentals that are missing in this commentary.
    USP is the Unique Selling Proposition, a phrase coined by Rosser Reeves in his 1954 textbook – “Reality in Advertising.”
    – The differentiating features the competition cannot or does not offer – they must be unique.
    – Must move people to act based on needs.
    – Product or service benefits

  2. Kate Trgovac
    Kate Trgovac October 8, 2008

    Mosley! We’ve missed you!
    First of all – yes, it is advertorial, indicated by the “PromoPost” category. However, if you are getting the content in email format, that may not be clear. We will work on rectifying that as well as making the specific author more clear.
    Secondly – while I do like to bask in platitudes, I actually prefer comments like yours. Looking around the Canadian marketing blogosphere, I find there is a lot of violent head-nodding in agreement. I’d prefer to have someone challenge a point of view or an assertion. While I’m not a big fan of some of the name calling we had on the “Story Two point Oh” article we had a few months ago (for example), I do think that was a lively and important discussion. Something I’d like to foster more of.
    Thirdly, Peter – you know I’d love to have you write for us. To shake us out of that violent agreement. Open invitation. Perhaps a start is to republish this as a full article?
    Thank you for taking the time to respond! I’m going to leave it to the authors to address your points about the content itself.

  3. pete mosley
    pete mosley October 8, 2008

    Thanks Kate – I didn’t pick up on it being a commercial message – in future would be a great idea if the folks doing the advertorials give a nice blurb about what they do, why they do it and who they are and why we would buy from them. That would be AOK with moi.
    I am a BIG fan of promotion, advertising and payin da rent!
    Thanks for your kind words…
    (That is old bald head blushing!!!)
    I will see what I can put together for a little “stir da pot” article.
    Hugs all the way to you on the “Left Coast” from the “Centre of the Universe”

  4. Kate Trgovac
    Kate Trgovac October 8, 2008

    Done. I’ve updated the PromoPost template to be clearer about sponsorship. Something we should have done from the beginning – so thank you.
    Will look at how to do an “about our sponsor” blurb; another excellent idea.
    Oh, no! I think the head-pat quotient might be rising. Must. Find. Another. Topic. To. Rile. The. Mose.
    🙂 k

  5. Simon Smith
    Simon Smith October 8, 2008

    Thanks Pete,
    For sparing everyone the platitudes. And for raising some great points.
    First, as Kate noted, this is (kind of) an advertorial. More an opportunity for us to clearly distinguish a paid post from an unpaid post. But it’s not like we’re selling Ginsu knives here or anything. Just want to be sure people know we’re paying for placement.
    I’ll take responsibility for the authorship. While these posts are team efforts, this one grew from one of my own blog posts on the Commune Media website.
    Like you, I’m suspect of people who claim to be marketing “gurus.” And I don’t. Nor have I been at this anywhere near as long as you. But after a four-year mass communications undergrad (journalism), 10 years of marketing and online content experience, a masters degree that allowed me to study communications technology and medical marketing history, and developing campaigns (online and offline) for many large brands (which you can find on the Commune Media website, but which I hope you’ll understand me leaving out here), I’d like to think I know *something* about language.
    (The Commune team, by the way, has similar backgrounds–writing, publishing, marketing and so forth.)
    In terms of the basis of the view, it comes from (1) research and (2) experience.
    In terms of research, you are 100% correct that a big issue here is lack of USP (not to mention lack of clear positioning and lack of category ownership). But there’s more. Plenty of research also shows that concrete messages–as well as emotional messages, which you noted–are the stickiest.
    In terms of experience, please allow me to quickly describe what we do–because (and this is entirely our fault) we don’t currently convey our own position to the market very well right now, as we’re completing a rebranding in preparation for a relaunch (shoemaker’s kids, to which I know many people reading One Degree can relate).
    Quite simply, we focus on content optimization. Which means we optimize campaigns for search engines, readability and persuasion. In doing so, we test a lot of messaging. Both before it goes to market and while it’s in market. Then we optimize accordingly. In doing this, we’re able to quickly learn–direct marketing style–what tends to work and what doesn’t. Benefits, as you noted, kick features’ ass. But perhaps surprisingly, sometimes even the smallest change in presenting those benefits–even a single word or punctuation mark–can mean the difference between a campaign that makes money and one that loses money.
    While I competely agree with you that most ad creation is flawed (for all the reasons you noted–and more), when you expose messages to measurement you can at least start to minimize bias. Either it performs in the market or it doesn’t. And while this is easier to measure with direct response, there are also tools, as you know, for doing it with brand perception and other key success metrics.
    So, please allow me to summarize:
    (1) These posts need better attribution; we’re working on it.
    (2) Our own positioning is unclear; we’re working on it.
    (3) We both agree that the fundamentals are essential.
    (4) Based on research and experience, I submit that comparatives are weak.
    (5) And, of course, we both agree that too many guys buy fast cars to compensate for physical shortcomings.
    Finally, we both agree that much ad creation is flawed.
    And I submit that aggressive measurement, and a focus on results (rather than opinions), can help overcome some of the issues.
    So I would love to see Bell’s research on how those ads performed–and I would REALLY love to submit some variations to test.
    I’d also love to continue this dialogue in private. So when you’re up for it, email simon(dot)smith(at)

  6. pete mosley
    pete mosley October 9, 2008

    Now that’s what Willis was talkin’ about!
    I am sadly up at an ungodly hour for a DMAT Session and out for the day with them (I mention DMAT – Direct marketing Association of Toronto – cause there is a ton going on in our association and y’all should be aware. More on that later) I will respond in kind (here and in private) when there is sun out and a semblance of order in my tiny brain.
    But just wanted to respond immediately with a well aimed platitude!
    Nicely done all.

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