by Megan Reichenbach, editor
We all have those products that are a go-to while doing our usual weekly grocery run. For me, I immediately pick up the Kashi cereal over Special K, Diet Coke rather than Diet Pepsi and Tide cleaning products over the generic Publix brand.
We all develop a loyalty to preferred brands, leaving those companies to thrive because we are immediately drawn away from their competitors.
But, this does not mean that those competitors impacted by our purchases are not finding ways for loyal buyers to divert from their usual purchases. Brands such as Coca-Cola and PC Windows 7 have been blatantly attacked in national television commercials through media manipulation and comparison advertising.
Media manipulation is defined as “an aspect of public relations in which partisans create an image or argument that favors their particular interests.”
Comparison advertising is a “promotional technique in which the advertiser claims the superiority of its product over competing products by direct or indirect comparison.”
Companies have been using manipulation and comparison advertising in recent television commercials in order to divert attention from a competitor’s brand to their own.
Santa Claus: the legendary Coca-Cola icon
The Coca-Cola and PepsiCo rivalry is still one of the oldest, most publicized product rivalries in America. In the summer of 2011, PepsiCo took the competition to the next level by stealing Coca-Cola’s most iconic symbol, Santa Claus, in its “Summer Time is Pepsi Time” commercials.
“The commercial stars a short-sleeved Santa who does the unthinkable and deliberately picks Pepsi-Cola over Coke – because he’s on ‘vacation’,” Fiona Roberts said in a July 2011 MailOnline article.
Usually competition shown on television is behind the lines, but this commercial specifically got me thinking . . . Is this blatant strategy even ethical?
According to the Businessihub article, “Comparative advertising: Ethical mode of increasing the brand image,” comparative advertising has been begging the question of whether this marketing strategy is ethical.
The PepsiCo commercial clearly overshadows Coca-Cola’s ownership of the Santa Claus icon, giving it a more enjoyable connotation by partnering the concept of Santa drinking Pepsi with the idea of summer vacation. Can PepsiCo really overshadow the entire idea of the Santa Claus icon that Coca-Cola began in the first place? According to a Businessihub post, “overshadowing a brand to increase the market penetration for one brand is considered as an unethical process by many.”
After watching the “Summertime is Pepsi Time” commercial for the first time, I was shocked by PepsiCo’s use of such blatant competitive attacks. According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, “the intent and connotation of the ad should be to inform and never to discredit or unfairly attack competitors, competing products or services.”
In the 2011 commercial, PepsiCo failed to inform consumers of its product, and instead created its main focus around Santa choosing the Pepsi product over Coca-Cola.
Steve Job’s invention of Apple – PC’s worst nightmare
On its website, Apple describes the act of buying a PC Windows 7 as a purchase downgrade because obtaining an Apple product has the potential to “upgrade your entire computer experience.”
While browsing the Apple site, you constantly run into claims that the Apple computers are a far better choice than a PC: “It has features you won’t find on a PC. So from the outside in, a Mac is designed to be a better computer.”
In a series of the “Get a Mac” television commercials starring actor Justin Long (seen in films such as Jeepers Creepers, Dodgeball and Live Free or Die Hard), the Mac computer is repeatedly suggested to be a far better choice of a computer.
According to a PCWorld Article, “the commercials pinned a nerdy-looking, suit-wearing John Hodgman as a PC against a younger and supposedly cooler Justin Long as a Mac.” Through the use of a celebrity endorsement the commercial is using comparison advertising. The Apple industry is clearly implying that Mac users are essentially “cooler” than those who use a PC.
The “Get a Mac” commercials raise the ethical question of whether the stereotypes depicted are even true. According to a CNN news article, a survey by Hunch suggests that Mac users can be seen as “elitists or more pretentious.” I find it to be a far-fetched claim that using a specific brand of a computer can actually change you as a person; a computer is a computer, right?
Are these ads offending PC users, giving them the reputation that they are less tech-savvy just because they invested in a PC rather than a Mac computer? It seems as though the Apple industry is manipulating its market to “think” just that.
We all can agree that commercials such as these have used media manipulation and comparison advertising to successfully reach their consumer market. But, when is that ethical line crossed and when will the attacked brands retaliate?