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Home | Competitive Framework - Refresher - Part 2

 August 19, 2007




(Note:  A week or so ago, we began reviewing some key aspects of the Competitive Framework element of the Brand Positioning.  Here’s another installment—highlighting some times when marketers might go beyond packaging and merchandising and use advertising to communicate a brand’s Literal Competitive Framework.)


Advertising the Literal Competitive Framework


Here are some of the more common reasons for spotlighting the brand’s Literal Competitive Framework in advertising:


  1. When brand line extensions (or new indications for pharmaceutical and medical brands) open up new sources of volume.  If the marketplace already knows the brand and its longstanding competitive set well, it only makes sense to inform everyone when there is a change to that set.  For example, when Campbell’s Soup launched its new Soup at Hand packaging for virtually instantaneous, on-the-go soup the brand seized upon an immediate opportunity to expand beyond its entrenched set of canned soups.  The new single-serve, portable format enabled the brand to compete with virtually any “in-hand nutrition.”  In one of their first print ads they simply show a split page with an un-named granola bar at the top and a Campbell’s Soup at Hand at the bottom.  The headline brings it all home:  “Routine.” (aside the granola bar)  “Rousing!  Eat something good on the go.” (aside the Soup at Hand).  And at the very bottom of the ad are the simple words, “Campbell’s Instead.”  Through this simple communication the between-meal nutrition-seeker now opens her mental drawer and sees not merely energy bars, but also Campbell’s!


  1. When a brand has the option of sourcing volume from a smaller, “sub” competitive set or from the established “gold standard” (which typically dominates the established competitive set).  Actually, in some categories brands have wrestled with this option for years.  Take sanitary protection.  Tampon brand marketers in the U.S. have gone back and forth in their advertising by sometimes positioning their product as a better alternative to other tampons (about 40% of the total market), and other times as a better alternative to pads and liners (about 60% of the total “san-pro” market).  Of course, which competitive set to go up against is often an opportunistic choice:  if the brand has a legitimate performance advantage over other leading tampons (say, with a new extension), then it only makes sense to exploit that news.  But the brand may at other times perform no better than other tampons, yet show better absorbency or comfort than certain pads…so why not let san-pro users know that?


One of our favorite, recent examples of taking on the “gold standard” in advertising comes out of Argentina for the NutraSweet Brand.  Now that it is over 25 years old, many consumers around the globe know NutraSweet as a leading artificial sweetener.  They also know a few of the more prominent competitors that make up the artificial sweetener competitive set:  Equal, Saccharin, and more recently, Splenda.  In Argentina, NutraSweet chose to position itself outside of this “artificial” set and directly against the sweetness standard, sugar.  In one particularly clever television spot, a woman makes coffee for her husband at the breakfast table while he peruses the morning paper.  He sees an article there that says 90% of women “fake” with their husbands, and he inquires if she has ever “faked” with him.  She catches herself quickly and responds, “No, you would be able to tell if I did.”   She then asks him (with her back to him, hiding her actions) would he prefer sugar or NutraSweet in his coffee?  He replies, “Sugar.”  At this point she empties one packet of NutraSweet into his coffee (still unseen by him), hands him the cup, and he drinks with obvious satisfaction.  The spot ends with the simple words on the screen:  “NutraSweet:  Tastes as good as sugar.”


The positive implications of this kind of literal framing are twofold:  (1) the sugar user (or dual sugar & artificial sweetener user) is incited to try NutraSweet and find out how indistinguishable the taste is from real sugar; and (2) the sugar user may infer that, among all those artificial sweetener choices out there, NutraSweet is the one that is better-tasting.  One other thing this advertising approach illustrates is that you don’t have to beat the “gold standard” to source volume from it!


  1. When a brand needs to fend off unexpected competition—particularly that deriving from advances in technology.   Take, for example, some of the skincare brands—especially their line extensions in the burgeoning anti-aging segment.  Virtually all of these products, whether from Neutrogena, Nivea, RoC, or Olay are essentially lotions in a bottle which are applied to the surface of the skin.  They clearly compete with one another…until some advance like Botox injections or laser resurfacing comes along.  And, while it is true that both injections and laser applications are more invasive procedures, in some instances they will steal volume from the tried and true lotions.


At times like these it may behoove the marketer to remind the anti-aging lotion user that her brand offers wonderful youth-enhancing efficacy without  No wonder, then, that Neutrogena has run some print ads showing their Visibly Firm (with copper) cream alongside a hypodermic syringe with the simple headline:  “Is it possible to have younger-looking skin without resorting to collagen injections?”  And, along similar lines, Olay Regenerist has run print with a list of invasive procedures (Botox, laser resurfacing, chemical peel) that have all been crossed out; only the word “regenerist” at the bottom of the list remains fully visible.  Referencing a new, “more advanced” competitive set as these ads do may actually get some consumers to think twice before giving up their topical skincare for treatments; it may also suggest that these new treatments are not all that much more effective anyway. the potential risks associated with more invasive treatments.


  1. When a brand has a provable (and meaningful) advantage versus its key competition.  We generally label advertising developed in this case as “comparative,” and the risks-rewards associated with comparative advertising have long been debated among marketers.  Most buy into the principle that leading brands should never condescend to acknowledge or give any “free GRP’s” to their lower-ranking competitors; they also typically accept, therefore, that comparative advertising is reserved for the “upstarts” in the competitive set (numbers Two, Three, or Four) who have less to lose.  And, of course, outside the United States comparative advertising is widely scorned as an American phenomenon—and in most places, illegal anyway.


Regardless of your personal philosophy on the advisability of running comparative advertising, there are case histories after case histories of brands that have gained significant business results via the clever (and timely!) use of ads that showcase their brand’s “win” over its closest competitor or even the entire competitive set.  Though it now happened well over thirty years ago, does the Pepsi Challenge ring a familiar bell? 


But you don’t have to go back in time to see its effects at work:  on any given day, U.S. television ads for Advil, Aleve, or Excedrin will plainly point out that their pain relief is stronger, faster, or better than that of Tylenol.  And it is becoming more and more common to see direct-to-consumer magazine ads for prescription drugs that pit one brand against all the others in its class—showing that it handles more symptoms (e.g., Flonase), lasts longer (e.g., Allegra), or is approved for more indications (e.g., Zyrtec) than any other in the set.


These, then, are some of the more common reasons for actually advertising the brand’s Literal Competitive Framework to the customer or consumer.  Still, though, it is relatively rare for marketers to use advertising to communicate the Competitive Framework.  That’s why it makes all that much more sense for most brands to create, nurture over time, and eventually own a Perceptual Competitive Framework.  A subject we’ll cover in our next CF Refresher.  Stay tuned.


Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney

Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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