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Learning to love competitor advertising

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John Lewis Christmas advert: Hotly anticipated
John Lewis Christmas advert: Hotly anticipated

Carat's head of evaluation Mary Jeffries outlines why competitor advertising isn't always something to be feared. A version of this article was published in The Grocer in December 2012

 

Most FMCG advertisers worry about what their competition is doing. This worry is never more prevalent than at Christmas. Each year the feeding frenzy of high-impact campaigns seems to get bigger and bolder, with food and drink retailers desperate to stand out in consumers’ minds as they think about filling their fridges and freezers in time for the festive season.

Evaluation studies conducted by Carat looking at how different touchpoints drive brand engagement have found almost universally that competitor advertising has a positive impact on people’s attitudes to a brand, and also to their likelihood to consider that brand. 

In fact for FMCG categories competitor advertising can have a larger positive effect on a brand than its own advertising.

This is fairly counterintuitive to many. The more widespread view – and received wisdom – is that competitors advertising is harmful and must be defended against as much as possible. 

But our research shows that for the majority of consumers in the FMCG category, advertising from any brand drives positive perceptions and consideration for all brands within the category.

The concept of a category effect from advertising is nothing new.  That is, where all of the brands or products in a category receive benefit from the activity of a brand or brands, often the category leaders or innovators.

But typically we tend to think of this in the context of sales. Brands are usually considered to be distinct from each other in personality or image.

Our evaluation suggests that people probably think more about product categories as generics as much as they think about individual brands. For example, “I’ll need to buy some breakfast cereal when I do the next grocery shop”. For the FMCG category the low price-point of most goods means consumers are likely to be reminded that they need their groceries – but they may not spend a great deal of time deciding which particular brand to purchase. 

In a long-term brand-building context, this means that advertising is as much about reminding consumers of products as it is about the brand itself; “Don’t forget, breakfast cereal is great!”. 

Competitor advertising per se isn’t always something to get too het up about – and is possibly even something to welcome and make use of.

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