Comparative Advertising and Content Marketing

Applying the Art of War to Content Marketing

Jason Quey
Last updated: Apr 07, 2023
Originally published: Apr 11, 2019
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Coke vs Pepsi. Mac vs PC. McDonald’s vs Burger King.

These are some of the biggest brand battles in history. And we know about these battles in part due to comparative advertising.

Comparative advertising isn’t exclusive to Fortune 500 companies. Startups like Intercom, Podia, and Decibite are using comparative advertising, and blending it with content marketing. They do this by creating landing pages which target comparison keywords to win over comparison shoppers.

Here's an example of Decibite in comparison to their competitors:

content comparative advertising
Decibite Comparison Advertising

Here's an example of Podia compared to their competitors:

content comparative advertising
Podia Comparative Advertising

These are one-on-one comparisons.

Another example is to create a list of products and highlight the top product. Lars Lofgren compared a list of the top website builders to help educate his audience why choose one builder over another.

When done right, comparative advertising will help you win potential customers looking to buy now. It can also help you win over frustrated customers ready to leave your competitors. So while SEO traffic isn’t the highest for these keyword phrases, the ROI tends to make it one of the first content strategies to prioritize.

In this article, we will look at:

  1. What is comparative advertising?
  2. Why use comparative advertising? And what are the potential risks of doing so?
  3. When doing comparative advertising, what matters most to potential customers?

What Is Comparative Advertising?

Comparative advertising is a marketing strategy which compares your product to a competitor’s product. The goal is to show why you are a worthwhile choice compared to your competitor.

Before the ‘70s, comparative advertising was widely avoided. But in 1972, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began to encourage comparative advertising. Their goal was to increase informative advertising. They believed this would spark positive competition to increase sales.

The comparison can associate or differentiate your startup from the competition. It can also be a direct or indirect comparison. Contrary to popular opinion, the message you send doesn’t have to be negative either.

The Bing It On challenge painted Bing and Google as two excellent search engines. Bing’s goal was to show why they were a superior choice. According to their analysis, it worked.

So, will comparative marketing work for you? Is this a worthwhile way to get new customers? Like all marketing strategies, yes and no.

Why Use Comparative Advertising With Content Marketing? And What Are the Potential Risks of Doing So?

“Do not engage an enemy more powerful than you. And if it is unavoidable and you do have to engage, then make sure you engage it on your terms, not your enemy’s terms.”

Sun Tzu

Do you remember the “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” ads? A year before their launch, Apple was experiencing low sales. Then, they began their “Get a Mac” campaign. In a month, Apple saw an increase of 200,000 Macs sold. By July of 2006, Apple announced it had sold 1.3 million Macs.

At the end of September 2006, Apple announced an increase of 39% in sales from the previous year.

Comparative advertising allows you to tell your story to customers who are ready to buy.

We also remember negative information better than positive information. So comparative advertising has the potential to stick in your customer’s head longer.

Not every comparative advertising campaign will be a success. When Burger King launched the Whopper Virgin ads, some saw the campaign as racist, insulting, and exploitative. A study showed negative emotions created by comparison ads sometimes transferred to that brand, igniting the backfire effect.

There are also potential legal issues. While they vary by country, the information you present should:

  1. Include accurate claims about your competitor’s product.
  2. Not mislead or deceive customers.
  3. Include a disclaimer that you are not affiliated with your competitor in any way.
  4. Not change or manipulate your competitor’s trademark or logo in any way.

You may be wondering, “How can I make accurate claims about my competitor’s product?”

The easiest solution we use is to survey customers. You can ask your customers who they think are your competitors, and why they switched to you. This allows you to present accurate information about your competitors to avoid legal issues.

So, what should you keep in mind when creating comparative landing pages for your startup?

When Doing Comparative Advertising, What Matters Most to Potential Customers?

Customers want information that’s believable, reliable, and easy to process. Studies show customers think about these qualities when looking at comparative advertising.

Beyond that, what information should you include to show true thought leadership? I find it is best to answer the questions in your customer’s head. If you look at Intercom’s comparison landing page, you will notice it answers these four questions:

  1. What will push someone away from what they are currently considering?
  2. What will pull someone to my product over the competing product?
  3. How will we decrease a customer’s fear of buying from us and their uncertainty of change?
  4. How will we decrease attachment to how things currently are?

Let’s look at how they answer these four questions in their comparison landing page. The first section answers the first two questions.

content comparative advertising

Intercom starts by highlighting what Zendesk does poorly. They then show why they are a better alternative. To prove this, Intercom then follows up with a testimonial that restates their point.

content comparative advertising

Next, they add a few more sections that also answer questions one and two. Then, Intercom focuses on the third question to help relieve a potential customer’s fear of making the switch.

content comparative advertising

This section shows what they do to support customers. It also includes a guide to help customers switch to them. As you go down the landing page, they include an FAQ section to further reduce someone’s fear of buying.

content comparative advertising

Finally, Intercom tackles the fourth question. By stating what will happen if a customer stays with Zendesk, Intercom increases the customer’s FOMO.

content comparative advertising

What Keyword Phrases Can I Use to Get More Search Traffic From Google?

There are five main categories of pages you will want to target. These are:

  1. {{Competitor}} Alternative. Example: Slack Alternative.
  2. {{Competitor}} Pricing. Example: Slack Pricing.
  3. {{Competitor}} Review. Example: Slack Review.
  4. {{Competitor 1}} vs {{Competitor 2}}. Example: Slack vs Hipmunk.
  5. {{Competitor}} {{Product type}}. Example: Slack Hosting.

Here's where the fun comes in.

If you have one product and 10 competitors, you have potentially 85 landing pages to help frustrated customers find your startup. And it's not uncommon to find 20 or more competitors when you talk to your customers.

That is, 10 alternative pages, 10 pricing pages, 10 review pages, 45 competitor vs competitor pages, and 10 product pages.

What content should you put on each page?

For alternative pages, I would do a side-by-side comparison between you and your competitor's business. You should make it clear how you position your startup different than your competitors.

If possible, include testimonials from customers who switched from each competitor. They should describe the pain they had at the previous competitor and the value they received from your startup.

For product pages, compare each product of yours side-by-side with your competitor.

These customers are interested in your competitor's product, but are still doing research. Therefore you may find it valuable to use the problem, agitate, solve (PAS) copywriting framework when creating these landing pages.

The formula works like this:

  • Identify a problem.
  • Agitate that problem.
  • Lead the customer to your product as a solution.

For pricing pages, you can either do another product comparison, or you can position your pricing strategies. This is especially valuable when 1) your competitor has a complicated pricing plan and yours is simple or 2) your competitor uses deceptive pricing tactics.

For review pages, you will want to buy their product and use their service (don't worry, it's for science!). You will then give your honest review, sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly about the product experience.

Again, the key is to make it clear how you position your startup different than your competitors.

If you get real fancy, you can include reviews that will show up in a Google search.

For competitor vs competitor pages, you can choose to either compare your business or core product to two of your competitors. In a sense, this is a 3-way comparison (competitor 1 vs competitor 2 vs your startup). This typically only tactic works if both competitors are big.

You may also find "switch from {{Competitor}}" a good keyword phrase if your competitors are big enough.

Pro Tip: You can create these as a landing page or as an article on your blog. If you upload the article, I use Wordable to upload it faster. If going the landing page route, here's a curated list of landing page builders I use and recommend.

What you should do next...

Comparative advertising is an excellent opportunity to get new customers to your startup. Although some companies use it to sling mud at their competitors, there are companies like Intercom that strive to accurately show why a potential customer should buy from them.

By giving clear and compelling reasons why your startup is a better alternative to your competitor’s solution, you can use comparative advertising to get new customers who are ready to buy from you today.

Do you want your startup to achieve product-market fit?

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Jason Quey

I am the CEO and Founder of Growth Ramp. I enjoy serving early-stage startups and later-stage scale-ups on their journey from idea to scale.

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