Puffery, deception and fraud are, however, a small part of unethical practices in the field of advertising. One major area of concern is comparative advertising. One classic example of this is the Captain Cook salt ad. Tata salt was the undisputed leader in the salt market when Captain Cook entered the field. The new comer dared to compare its features with the established market leader.
The comparison was done in an imaginative and humorous way. The model in the ad (Sushmita Mukherji) made fun of all the good features of Captain Cook salt. It’s whiteness, no moisture content and free flowing nature were mocked. However, the ad was actually making fun of the lack of these characteristics in Tata salt. And the audience got the message. This ad led to an ad-war between Tata and Captain Cook.
While many ads claim that the brands advertised are superior to their competitors, some others try to make the packaging look like major brands. Some other people use similar sounding brand name like GOLOFLAKE for GOLD FLAKE or LIFEBUY for LIFEBUOY. Advertisers use comparative advertising even at the risk of getting exposed. And in today’s highly competitive market, comparative advertising has become a major weapon. Also people do not mind doctoring or manufacturing data. False and misguiding information are fed through advertising.
One example is the Pepsodent ad that was banned. This ad claimed that Pepsodent was 102% better than its competitor. (Yeh Toothpaste hai ya Tendulkar). The competitor was Colgate and it complained to the MRTP Commission. An inquiry followed and the Pepsodent ad was banned. Many newspapers and magazines use the circulation figures and the readership figures to claim they are the number one.
In addition to playing with numbers and information (facts), advertisers also play with subjective material. Someone calls on the customers to Believe in t he Best. Some one else comes and claims to be Better than the best. One television company claims to have the flattest screen. Another TV manufacturer claims to have a screen, which is flatter than the flattest. These kind of comparative claims are difficult to either prove or disprove. Advertising practitioners feel that there is no stopping comparative advertising as long as there is competition. However, on the plus side for the consumers, competition not only leads to comparative advertising, it also leads to better and much improved products.
Some times advertisers try to copy other’s advertisements. Plagiarism or imitation is on the rise even in the field of advertising. Competing advertising often prepare strikingly similar advertisements. Some say that this is mere coincidence. Some say it is plagiarism.
In the 1980’s a television ad of American Honda Company showed a Honda car blasting off sideways like a spaceship. About five years later another car company Oldsmobile showed a similar ad comparing the car with a spaceship using visuals similar to the old Honda ad. This ad created a lot of controversies.
One example from India is about the some model (Ruby Bhatia) being used by these competing toothpastes – Colgate and Closeup. Opinions are divided about this particular case.
Some people say imitating ads remind consumers about the original product. Some others feel that the copied ad does lot of damage to the original product.
Also copying a lifting of ideas is practiced a lot in the advertising world. Creative Black Books, which feature award winning ads from all over the world, have become the sources of ideas instead of the copywriter’s own imagination. Copywriters and visualizers refer these Black Books and shamelessly lift ideas. Some call it inspiration. Some say that they change the context and are not exactly copying. Some others call it creative adoption. However, to many lifting ideas is plain plagiarism or copying. We have already discussed how established brand names are copied.