Comparative advertisements have been widely used in the United States, especially since their use was encouraged in a FTC ruling in the early 1970s. Estimates suggest that about 30 to 40% of all advertisements are comparative (Donthu 1992; Robinson 1994). Numerous academic and industry studies have investigated comparative advertising effectiveness with mixed results (see Rogers and Williams 1989 and Barry 1993 for reviews). Some researchers have found comparative advertisements to be effective (e.g., Demirdjian 1983; Earl and Pride 1980), but others have found them to be no more effective than traditional noncomparative advertisements (e.g., Droge and Darmon 1987; Goodwin and Etgar 1980).
Several researchers have conducted studies to understand why the results have been so mixed (e.g., Pechmann and Ratneshwar 1991). Certain factors that may cause comparative advertisements to be more or less effective than noncomparative advertisements have been identified. Muehling and Kangan (1985), Hisrich (1983), and Donthu (1992) looked at message-related variables (e.g., intensity of the message, one- vs. two-sided message, product type), whereas Dasgupta and Donthu (1994) and Taschian and Slama (1984) studied consumer (viewer)-related variables (e.g., involvement, familiarity, cognitive ability).
Apparently no one has examined cross-country differences in comparative advertising effectiveness. Yet the internationalization of American companies and the trend toward building global products make such differences very important. As American companies are increasingly advertising their products in other countries, we need to take a critical look at comparative advertising. Can comparative advertisements be used in other countries as easily as they are used in the United States? Given that comparative ads may or may not be widely used (and may in fact be illegal) in other countries, how will consumers in those countries react to comparative ads?
As evidence of the growing importance of a global focus, several recent studies have investigated cross-country differences in advertising practice (e.g., Harvey 1993; Hite and Frazer 1988; Kanso 1992; Lin 1993; Ramaprasad and Hasegawa 1992). However, most of them addressed advertising in general and were not designed specifically to investigate cross-country differences in comparative advertising effectiveness. In a comprehensive survey of cross-cultural advertising research, Samiee and Jeong (1994) found that of 24 articles published in the last decade, not a single one was designed to exclusively study comparative advertising.
The following examples suggest the extent of cross-country differences in attitudes (or policy) toward comparative advertising.
1. "Wendy's famous 'Where is the Beef?' campaign, in which it taunted rival McDonald's, would be illegal in some EU countries" (Robinson 1994, p. 59).
2. "Coke has been given the Pepsi challenge in Japan. And the Japanese didn't like it one bit. ... when Pepsi decided to continue running the ads [rap singer M. C. Hammer campaign]... all five major Tokyo channels refused.... In Japan, comparative advertising...[is] generally considered to be taboo" (Kelly 1991, p. 27). "Pepsi replaced the Coke can with an anonymous cola can for the ad it aired in the United Kingdom" (Robinson 1994, p. 59).
3. A Parisian retailer, Leclerc, ran "three inserts, all cartoons, compar[ing] the price tag on a baguette in a traditional bakery and at a Leclerc shopping mall; a carat of gold in a jewelry shop and at Leclerc; and, lastly, a brand of shampoo in a drugstore and a supermarket.... And, faithful to Leclerc style, the lad]...end[ed] with the exhortation 'comparative advertising is worth thinking about twice'...[The baker's federation, drugstore association and jewelry association argued] the campaign was false, distorting and prejudicial.... A court order has now stopped the campaign.... But press releases bristling with charges of hypocrisy, sensationalism, and self-serving publicity stunts, as well as other insults, continue" (Subramanian 1991, p. 35).
4. "Industry regulations are so strict that no advertiser in Brazil has been able to create a comparative spot that hasn't been challenged and subsequently stopped.... The code, which dates back to 1978, specifies comparative advertising can be used when there is an objective statistical basis, when the advertising seeks to clarify positioning, and when the products compete in the same product segment" (Turner 1991, p. 28).
The examples basically show that comparative advertising is not a universally accepted advertising format. It may be legal in some countries, but elsewhere cultural differences may make it taboo. In many countries the advertising community has an implicit understanding that comparative advertisements will not be used. Often, the assumption is that such advertising is not effective and that the people will not like it, which may or may not be true.
This article reports the results of an exploratory study designed to investigate cross-country differences in comparative advertising effectiveness. In particular, recall of and attitude toward comparative advertisements in different countries were measured. Rather than investigating the effectiveness of such advertisements in all possible countries, the study examined it in (1) a country where comparative advertising is legal and is widely used (Canada), (2) a country where comparative advertising is legal but is not widely used (Great Britain), and (3) a country where comparative advertising has been illegal and …